What are some advantages and disadvantages of using ethanol as fuel?


Quick Answer

Ethanol fuel is a renewable and biodegradable source of energy that helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while corn-based ethanol offers positive energy balance and creates usable by-products, such as corn oil. Ethanol is produced domestically and helps lessen dependence on oil imports. However, ethanol fuel gives lower vehicle mileage compared to gasoline. In addition, lack of production facilities and variable price fluctuations challenge the use of ethanol as an alternative fuel.

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Full Answer

Ethanol is a product of natural materials, such as corn, sugarcane and grains. The production of ethanol involves fermentation, distillation and dehydration. Natural sugars, along with sugars obtained from enzymatic action of starch and cellulose, go through microbial fermentation to produce the ethanol mixture. A distillation process removes most of the water from ethanol, followed by stages of dehydration that produces anhydrous ethanol.

Ethanol is generally used in combination with gasoline in varying degrees. E10 and E15 are blends of ethanol and gasoline containing ethanol up to 10 percent and 15 percent, respectively. The E85 blend, containing 51 percent to 83 percent ethanol, is usable on flex-fuel vehicles, featuring special engine technologies that help improve mileage.

The United States and Brazil are the major producers and consumers of ethanol fuel. Most ethanol fuel stations in the United States are located in the Midwest.

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