When we think of alternative forms of energy ethanol is usually not at the forefront of our thoughts. We are more familiar with water, geothermal, nuclear, and solar energy... right? Well the truth is the power of ethanol can provide a vital key to unlocking the means to finding alternative forms of energy.
But what’s the deal with alternative energy, anyway? We have a vague idea that these types of enhanced natural resources can save our planet, but we also have heard that alternative energy may have some disadvantages that may not be as talked about as they should be. The fact is alternative energy can help with environmental issues like sustainability and global warming. Read on to see how ethanol fits into this picture.
Ethanol Alternative Energy / Increasing Independence
During the recent couple of years, many countries in the world faced serious challenges, associated with conventional energy sources. The new economic aspect, stemming from the constantly growing world prices for oil and other traditional fuels, aggravated the problem of energy resources depletion and environmental pollution.
That is why alternative sources of energy receive more and more attention today from governments of many countries around the world. Alternative energy, generated from renewable sources, is treated as the way to lower the total cost of energy and to reduce the dependence from the imported energy resources.
Ethanol Alternative Energy / Increasing Output
Ethanol is widely recognized these days as a very promising alternative source of energy. Furthermore, in the USA the importance of ethanol as the alternative energy source was defined by the Renewable Fuels, Consumer Protection, and Energy Efficiency Act, issued at 2007. According to this law, Americans plan to increase the production of ethanol from current 6.5 billion gallons to 36 billion gallons per year by 2022.
How Is Ethanol Produced?
Ethanol is an example of biofuel, which is produced from biological material, mostly plants. For example, in the USA ethanol is produced from corn or maize, in Brazil ethanol comes from sugar cane, and in Europe ethanol is made from sugar beet. Generally speaking, plants with higher content of sugar (sugar cane) is more preferable for ethanol production than those with lower sugar content (corn), but people learned to make ethanol from those plants, which are cultivated locally, in order to avoid additional costs of raw material transportation.
While corn and sugar cane remain the main sources of ethanol these days, many efforts are made in order to produce ethanol from sources other than plants, which can be used for food. In this regard, cellulosic ethanol is gaining its popularity. This type of ethanol can be produced from such materials as switchgrass, miscanthus, woodchips and other byproducts of wood processing. In fact, according to the above mentioned U.S. law, Americans expect at least 60% of their ethanol to be produced from cellulose.
Ethanol Alternative Energy / How is Ethanol Used?
Today ethanol is mainly used as a fuel for vehicles. For example, in Brazil about of 20% of all cars on the streets run on ethanol. In the USA, the proportion of ethanol-powered cars is much lower, but it grows rapidly. As cars fuel ethanol is mainly used in the form of mixture with gasoline.
For example, the mixture, containing 10% of ethanol and 90% of gasoline, is called E10, and the mixture with 85% of ethanol and 15% of gasoline is called E85. E10 fuel has been so widely used in the USA that it even received a nickname “gasohol” among car owners. The vehicles, capable of running either on gasoline or on the mixture of gasoline and ethanol, are commonly called “flex-fuel vehicles”.
In addition to transportation, ethanol is used in medicine as sterilizing and antibacterial agent; in chemical industry it is widely used to produce different organic compounds; ethanol is even used as rocket fuel, and, finally, it is the basic compound of any alcoholic beverage…
Ethanol Alternative Energy / Debates Around Ethanol
Perhaps, the most debatable issue around ethanol as the alternative source of energy is the amount of energy, consumed for processing corn or other raw material into ethanol. Many opponents of ethanol energy concept say that more energy is required to produce ethanol than it can be later provided by that ethanol. However, several scientific analyses, conducted recently, have claimed that statement wrong. For example, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley proved the cost-effectiveness of producing ethanol.
However, speaking about ethanol and its influence on the environment, the situation is quite unclear and debatable. The major concern is emission of greenhouse gases during burning of ethanol. However, in comparison with gasoline, ethanol produces 10-15% less harmful gases, so it is still a little bit more eco-friendly. Besides, ethanol is produced from renewable sources, which are produced locally – and these also refer to the advantages of ethanol as the alternative energy source.
Ethanol Alternative Energy / Sources
For more information on the alternative energy follow these links: