The Case For and Against Ethanol

As gasoline prices continue to hold at a steady and, thankfully, low price across most of the United States, alternative fuels are still being developed at a rapid pace. One of those is ethanol or grain alcohol.

Just like “moonshine”, ethanol is mostly made from grains, usually corn. E85 ethanol is sold at many gasoline stations across the country already, and it’s a blend of 15% gasoline and 85% ethanol. 1 gallon of E85 contains approximately 80,000 BTUs of energy, as opposed to the 125,000 BTUs in a gallon of pure gasoline. What that means is that it takes just over 1 1/2 gallons of E85 to propel your automobile as far as 1 gallon of gas.

There is a debate raging about the pros and cons of ethanol right now and, since it’s definitely going to be used more and more in the future, today we’re going to look briefly at the case For ethanol and the case Against it. Enjoy.

 

The case FOR Ethanol

A number of excellent features that ethanol brings to the energy table are that it’s extremely clean-burning, is made from plants and, at least as far as the numbers say, should provide higher horsepower than gasoline. Ethanol has a higher octane rating than gasoline as well and it burns cooler.

It’s believed that vehicles running on E85 will potentially have better performance than strictly gasoline vehicles because of the higher octane, higher compression ratio and the resulting increase in thermodynamic efficiency.

Ethanol is also greenhouse gas “neutral” because, as an engine produces atmospheric CO2, it basically makes up for the CO2 that the corn captured when it was growing.

 

The case AGAINST Ethanol

One of the biggest arguments against ethanol is that it takes more energy to actually grow the corn needed to make it, and then distill it into alcohol, then you can actually get from the ethanol itself.

Another major detriment is that ethanol, like all alcohols, is corrosive. That means any parts that are going to be exposed to it in a car need to be corrosion resistant. That usually means stainless steel or special types of plastic, which are more expensive to manufacture.

Growing corn is actually a very intensive process. It requires a lot of water and, even worse, the use of pesticides and fertilizers that are water pollutants. Also, the use of heavy equipment is needed to harvest corn and then transport it to distillation factories, using energy and expelling greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Lastly, the fact is that there simply isn’t enough land in the United States to grow enough corn to replace gasoline completely, even if it was possible.

An acre of corn can only produce 300 gallons of ethanol, which is an absurdly small amount when you consider that 200 million gallons of petroleum products are used every year in the United States. In fact, over 70% of the farmland in the United States would be needed to grow enough corn to replace those petroleum products, nearly 950 million acres of farmland.

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