Is Ethanol the Answer What are the Advantages and Disadvantages?
In recent years, due to the rise in gas prices consumers are interested in alternative fuels and alternative fuel vehicles. A study has shown that a significant number are interested in certain types of alternative fuel vehicles. However, a significant number of responses are skeptical. A high number of respondents are interested in hybrid-electric vehicles, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, and natural gas vehicles. The vehicle types that draw the most skepticism are bio fuel vehicles (44%), diesels (43%), and electric vehicles (42%) according to Global Refining and Fuels Report.
What is Ethanol?
Ethanol is an alternative fuel that is made from corn in the United States and sugar cane in Brazil. It is a staple for Midwestern states such as Iowa and Minnesota. This alternative fuel is made up of 85% alcohol and 15% gasoline. Ethanol is also a renewable resource and can be produced from a variety of sources. In addition, it can be delivered in our existing fuel infrastructures.
Operating vehicles on ethanol has its advantages and disadvantages. According to Fuel of the Future, one of the disadvantages of operating a vehicle on pure alcohol is that it doesn’t provide very good cold weather starting capabilities because it doesn’t evaporate quickly at the colder temperatures that many Canadians experience in the winter. In order to provide better cold starting capabilities and to prevent some from drinking the fuel, companies mix 15% gasoline with 85% alcohol. This is known as E85. In order to use E85, your vehicle must be a Flex-fuel vehicle. A flex-fuel vehicle is designed to operate on a combination of gasoline and alcohol. Special sensors and programs monitor the amount of alcohol in the fuel and modify the fuel injection rate. Some auto manufactures offer Flex-Fuel vehicles for sale. For instance, Ford F150, Nissan Titan, Chevy Tahoe, GMC Yukon, and Chevrolet Impala are available as Flex-Fuel vehicles.
Another disadvantage is finding fuel. In the United State, there are less than 700 stations out of 170,000 that offer ethanol. “The situation is worse in Canada. You will have to go to Ottawa in order to fill up,”. In Canada, up to 10% of ethanol is already being added to gasoline. This amount of ethanol can be used in regular gas powered fuel injection vehicles (Winnipeg Free Press June 28, 2006).
Currently bio fuels are a marginal additional stress on water supplies at the regional to local scale. However, significant acceleration of bio fuel production could cause much greater water quantity problems depending where crops are grown (The Nation’s Health 37.10 Dec. 2007). In 2007, President Bush called for the production of 35 billion gallons of ethanol by 2017. Another concern raised is the impact fertilizers and pesticides used in bio fuel agriculture and the water consumed for the production of ethanol.
There are some positive advantages of using E85. If you already own a Flex-Fuel vehicle, you can use regular gasoline in it and switch to E85 at any time. Another advantage of using E85 is that it cuts down on the production of greenhouse gasses. Another advantage is that because of the blending sources of ethanol, it limits the amount of oil being consumed. While providing for cleaner burner fuel (Knight Ridder/Tribune May 17, 2006).
Debating the Pros and Cons
According to “Debating the Pros Cons of Ethanol” Dinnen believes that an ethanol plant like the one being built in Hopewell should bring $150 million to $200 million to the local economy in income to local farmers, grain hauler, plant workers, and others. On the other hand, Green believes that ethanol benefits from the government which includes a tariff that keeps cheaper ethanol from entering United States However, Green argues that ethanol is bad because it raises energy costs when you do not need it. Dinnen argues that “There is no energy market anyplace in the world without some kind of government support including gasoline. That is because energy is too important to the economies in every country on the globe.” ( Richmond Times Dispatch November 23, 2008).
The Hopewell plant will produce ethanol from barley. The ethanol that is produced in the United States is made from corn. According to Green, ethanol made from barley is less harmful because it would require less usage of fertilizer and pesticides. However, using barley for ethanol would mean plowing more farm land. Another benefit from ethanol is that carbon dioxide traps heat in the atmosphere and ethanol’s greenhouse emissions are 30% lower than gasoline. This is because the source of ethanol removes carbon dioxide from the air when it is growing. Carbon dioxide returns to the air when it is burned in cars. Green further explain that ethanol is the only transportation fuel that has any greenhouse benefit.
When it comes to considering ethanol there are many pros and cons that have to be taken into consideration. Hopefully it will become more widely used in order to lower the United States’ dependency on foreign oil, improve the environment, and and help lower fuel costs.
“Debating Pros, Cons of Ethanol.” Richmond Time Dispatch November 23, 2008
“Fuel of the Future? E85 has is pros, cons; lower fuel economy, lack of filling stations today; less cost lower emissions tomorrow.” Winnipeg Free Press June 28, 2006
“Biofuels in the U.S.-Challenges and Opportunities Report”. Kent S. Hoekman Renewable Energy 34.1 (Jan. 2009 http://find.galegroup.com/ips/start.do?/prodld=IPS>.
“Raising Ethanol Production Could Threaten Water Supply.” The Nation’s Health. 37.10 Dec. 2007.