What Is Ethanol And Ethanol-Blended Fuel?

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Ethanol refers to fuel made from plants, including sugarcane, corn, wheat and barley, and its use has started to increase over the last several years. Many consider it a cleaner alternative to gasoline since it lowers emission levels and increases the octane number in the fuel.

Often, ethanol is mixed with traditional gasoline to form a blend, the most common of which is E85, meaning it’s made up of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline. Though most modern vehicles can use fuel with at least 10 percent ethanol, few can run properly if the percentage increases.

Pros of Ethanol

  • Add your content…It’s Clean – As an alternative to fossil fuels, ethanol reduces overall emissions and is classified as a renewable energy source.
  • It’s Cheap – The crops used to create ethanol can grow almost anywhere, which makes them easily-accessible and inexpensive.
  • It’s Versatile – Though commonly made from corn, sugarcane, wheat and barley, ethanol can be created from any living plant, including algae and grass. With so many possibilities, this fuel can only get cheaper.
  • It’s Energy-Balanced – When a fuel burns energy equal to or greater than the energy it takes in, it’s known as energy-balanced. The more energy produced per unit taken in, the more productive the fuel. Corn-based ethanol produces 1.06 units of energy for every unit used, and sugarcane-based ethanol generates even more energy at 8 units for every one unit used.
  • It’s Easy to Implement – More than 2,000 fuels stations already sell E85 in the U.S., and refineries can handily produce ethanol and have it distributed through already-existing pipelines (with a few modifications).

Cons of Ethanol

  • It’s Less Effective – Though it’s cleaner than gasoline, ethanol-consuming engines burn more fuel.
  • It’s Corrosive – Since it absorbs water easily, ethanol can corrode surfaces, making its transportation tricky. Trucks or pipelines used to move ethanol would have to be reworked, adding cost to the process.
  • It Uses Land – Since ethanol comes from crops, the surface area needed to supply them would be immense.
  • It Requires Infrastructure – Although at least 2,000 fuel stations already provide E85, more would be needed to make this fuel easily-accessible. Some argue the time and cost required to make that happen will keep ethanol consumers’ second choice.
  • It Requires Up-Front Costs – Some argue that ethanol can only become mainstream with increased effort planting the necessary crops and transporting/selling the fuel. Since these efforts demand financial commitment, they only make sense if ethanol’s popularity grows.

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