What Is Ethanol Fuel?

Automotive, Home & Family
on October 12, 2011

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) defines ethanol as “an alcohol-based fuel made by fermenting and distilling starch crops, such as corn.” According to the DOE, “It can also be made from ‘cellulosic biomass’ such as trees and grasses.”

E10 and E85 blends. The DOE reports that all automobile manufacturers approve the use of a gasoline-ethanol mixture that contains no more than 10 percent ethanol. E10 fuel, also known as gasohol, is around 3 percent to 4 percent less efficient than straight gasoline. E85 blend, a mix of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline, can be used in flex fuel vehicles, which are vehicles specifically designed to run on E85, gasoline or a mix between the two. The number of gas stations offering E85 is growing rapidly. Flex fuel vehicles usually experience a 25 percent decline in miles per gallon as compared to using straight gasoline. Performance, however, is not affected.

Benefits of E85. If E85 is more expensive, harder to find and results in lower gas mileage, why would anyone want to buy a vehicle that runs on it? There are four key reasons:

• 1. Ethanol is domestically produced, and therefore, reduces American dependence on foreign oi.

• 2. E85 produces lower emissions of air pollutants and is good for the environment.

• 3. E85 causes less engine knock, leading to a smoother ride.

• 4. The added cost to a vehicle equipped to run on E85 is minimal, and although E85 fuel currently costs more, as it becomes more popular, the cost is likely to decrease relative to gasoline cost.

Ethanol production. Ethanol production in the United States comes mainly from corn. According to the California Energy Commission, the process involves corn fermentation and distillation resulting in ethanol, animal feed and other byproducts. Ethanol is produced in 20 states. Of those, Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota and Nebraska are the largest producers. Major research and development methods for the production of ethanol in many states and foreign countries are in the works to improve the ability and cost of ethanol production.

As the United States attempts to lessen its dependence on foreign oil and provide a cleaner environment, alternative sources such as ethanol may prove beneficial.