E85 Where is the Benefit?
Just watch the daily national news and you will likely hear that crude oil prices have approached the ever increasing new all time high. Alternative fuels are becoming increasingly attractive to many, and no alternative fuel has received as much attention as ethanol. This renewable fuel, which can be derived from agricultural products including corn, wheat, barley and sugarcane, is haled by some as a savior of the American energy policy, while others see it as a yet another fad, popularized by heavily subsidized corporate backers and naysayer's. Currently, daily driver cars are not capable of burning 100% Ethanol fuel but are capable of using up to an Ethanol Gasoline blend of up to 15%. E85 is a blend of 85% Ethanol along with 15% Gasoline and is capable of being used in newer cars which are sometimes noted as having a yellow gas cap. The engines are nearly identical to those which
are not E85 capable, but have upgraded fuel delivery system components.
Myth vs. Reality
The reality of alternative and renewable fuels is complicated and confusing. While Ethanol production in the US is still a tiny industry when compared to gas, it has the potential to become a major player in not only the U.S., but also the World Fuel Supply in coming years.
As the price of gas increases, so does ethanol's publicity rise, as do the questions regarding economy, availability and fuel system conversion. There is also plenty of misinformation ranging from positive hype to negative criticism. The most often asked question is likely "What exactly is E85?" followed by, "Can I use it in my car?" and, "Will I get better mileage?" Other questions include "How is it made and used?" and, "Is it really a viable alternative to gasoline?" Here's is an attempt to answer these and other questions.
Nays ayers hold that mandating and subsidizing
the use of ethanol does not make economic sense because the costs
of producing ethanol do not exceed than the benefits. It is argued
that up to six times more energy is used to make ethanol than the
finished fuel actually contains. In other words, the fossil energy
expended during production alone, easily outweighs the consumable
energy in the end product.
What exactly, is Ethanol?
This renewable, alternative fuel is derived through a fairly straightforward process from various plants. The following example discusses Corn based Ethanol. To produce Ethanol from Corn; corn kernels are ground into a fine powder via a hammer mill to expose the starch. The ground corn is then mixed with water, cooked briefly and enzymes are added to convert the starch to sugar using a chemical reaction called hydrolysis. An enzyme is then added to convert the mixture into sugars before yeast is added to ferment it. The resulting liquid, commonly known as "beer," is about 10% alcohol, or 20 proof. Distillation then separates the alcohol from the rest of the mixture before the remaining water is removed via dehydration. The result is essentially pure alcohol. A small amount of gasoline is added to render the liquid undrinkable which can then be used by itself or as a supplement to gasoline to power cars. High performance engines can burn 100% ethanol, but currently ethanol fuel stations only provide a blend of about 85% ethanol blended with 15% gasoline.
Ethanol has some advantages: It's renewable, it can be, and is produced domestically and, it burns cleaner than gasoline. The world's largest producer of ethanol is the U.S., and is made primarily from corn, followed closely by Brazil, which creates ethanol from sugarcane. The Brazilian ethanol industry is based on sugarcane; as of 2004, Brazil produces 14 billion liters annually, enough to replace about 40% of its gasoline demand. Renewable fuels are becoming an increasingly important topic in discussions regarding our diminishing fossil fuel supply. President George W. Bush and members of Congress have expressed support for Flex Fuels and Ethanol is on the list. In his State of the Union speech Jan. 31, 2006, President Bush promoted ethanol as a way to help reduce Middle East oil imports 75% by 2025. In recent months, Texas and Northeast oil refineries have begun replacing the gasoline additive "MTBE" (methyl tertiary-butyl ether) with Ethanol. MTBE, a chemical used almost exclusively as an additive to oxygenate motor vehicle gasoline, has been shown to contaminate drinking water. Ethanol, which does not present the same danger to drinking water, is also an effective oxygenating additive in gasoline.
Ethanol production in the United States grew from 175 million gallons in 1980 to 1.4 billion gallons in 1998, with support from Federal and State ethanol tax subsidies and the mandated use of high-oxygen gasoline's. The 2005 energy bill requires that the U.S. boost its 4 billion gallon ethanol production to 7.5 billion gallons by 2012. Recent studies estimate that the United States consumes more than 20 million barrels of oil every day (bbl/d), and only about 45 percent of that is refined into gasoline. Based on this, we can assume an average daily consumption of about 178 million gallons of gasoline in the US.
To Flex or Not To Flex Part 2