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Fuel & Energy Resources - Understanding Ethanol

Amid the increasing crisis of diminishing natural oil and gas reserves on our planet, we are looking for an alternative source of fuel to supply society’s ever-increasing energy demands. With the soaring gas prices, ethanol can be used as an alternative.

Ethanol is an organic compound which is produced by the distillation and fermentation of carbohydrate products. It is usually made from food crops with high starch content, including corn. Most importantly, this chemical can be mixed 85 parts by volume or with 15 parts by volume of gasoline and the mixture used as a car fuel with increased mileage at a much cheaper rate.

A few years back, it was a novelty to generate ethanol from common food grains. But in the long term, it may become a threat to our food resources as the scenario of food shortage due to the large scale utilization of farmland to produce ethanol to meet the demand for car fuel. So chemical engineers are working on ways to produce ethanol by recycling timbers and waste tires. This process of distilling ethanol could potentially meet upcoming demands without impacting on the world’s food supply, and provide a viable solution to the problem of fueling vehicles into the future.

But along with the benefits, ethanol has its shortcomings also. Some older cars are unable to run efficiently on ethanol when compared with normal gasoline. Also it has been seen in a financial study that, increase in demand for ethanol production indirectly drives up normal food prices leading to inflation in the social economy. Of course, if success is reached in attempts to produce ethanol from non-food sources, this disadvantage could easily be overcome. A further drawback, however is that ethanol does not produce as much vapor as petroleum gasoline and this could lead to problems in cold weather situations, as the vapor present may not be sufficient to ignite the necessary spark, and start the relevant engine.

Another problem may be bigger than all of these. Most vehicle engines in use today are not designed for ethanol use. But sooner or later, this obstacle can be overcome by designing engines to use ethanol as the primary fuel source. If this change is made to cars being manufactured, we will see the benefits of high octane flame speed, less heat loss and better efficiency overall. With current technology, many automobile manufacturers have already started to make smaller, lighter, ethanol-optimized engines which should prove cheaper than currently available engines. If the expected decrease in pollution output is achieved, such changes will also make for a cleaner planet.

With the reduced production of harmful greenhouse gases along with better fuel efficiency at a competitive rate, there seems to be no reason that ethanol won’t become the alternative car fuel of choice around the world in the coming decades.

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