Use of Ethanol to Power Automobiles

Studies have been done on whether using ethanol for fuel is a viable alternative to petroleum-based gas. The University of California at Berkeley has done a study that says ethanol is a viable alternative when you take into consideration other products that can also be produced through the production of crops for ethanol. You can use straight ethanol to run your vehicle or just a percentage of ethanol added to regular gas. If you want to run straight ethanol, you need a flexible-fuel vehicle to do it correctly. If you want to run a percentage of ethanol, you can do it in your car today. There is a common myth that using ethanol causes your car to need more repairs, but a car’s mechanical parts are not affected by the use of ethanol.

What is Ethanol?

Ethanol is a fuel obtained from a plant or grass. The crop of corn or grasses like switchgrass are grown and then fermented into alcohol. The fermentation is done with the sugars and starches in the crop. The alcohol can then be used in an combustion engine like your car’s. It can be used straight or mixed with gasoline. Ethanol is an alternative to petroleum-based gasoline that is being studied so that dependence on oil can be lessened.

How is Ethanol Used?

Ethanol can be used straight in some vehicles. These are called flexible-fuel vehicles. Ethanol can also be used as part of the fuel in almost any combustion engine you may own. For example, you can use ethanol in your lawn mower, four wheeler, motorcycle, or car. Often, race cars use ethanol straight or in mixtures. Ethanol is a high octane fuel and prevents your engine from "knocking". About one third of the gasoline in the United States contains some ethanol. In 2007, ethanol became the standard fuel for race cars in the Indy 500. It replaced methanol. Because of the high octane of the alcohols, the cars can be set at a higher compression and therefore achieve better performance. Ethanol is also used to power fuel cells and produce diesel.

What are the Advantages of Ethanol?

Ethanol can reduce dependence on oil and petroleum. It can be produced in this country for public use and the government would not have to import oil. Ethanol is also a higher octane fuel that coaxes better performance from vehicles. Its use reduces air pollution by reducing vehicle emissions by up to 50 percent. Scientists estimate that using ethanol could reduce greenhouse emissions by up to 88 percent.

What are the Disadvantages of Ethanol?

People who disagree with ethanol use say that you spend more energy making ethanol than you get energy from the actual fuel. Ethanol prices fluctuate more than gasoline. You can sometimes pay less for ethanol and sometimes more. This would make it hard on farmers trying to use the fuel. Ethanol also contains less energy than gasoline when compared gallon for gallon. Ethanol is only available in the Midwest where it is created; a wider distribution would be needed, which would add to costs, in order to become a viable alternative to gasoline.

Ethanol production could lessen dependence on petroleum and oil. However, there are problems that have to be overcome before it can be a sensible alternative to gasoline. The distribution needs to be created to make ethanol available all over the country, good crops need to be found to produce the most ethanol per acre, processing plants need to be built to process the fuel, and other products need to be found for the product that is left after creating ethanol. Ethanol use can become a viable alternative to gasoline if enough study and time is put in to resolve these issues.