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Published on October 22nd, 2007 | by Stephanie Evans


Ethanol as a Fuel

During the gasoline crisis of the late 70’s and early 80’s, a product called gasohol was popular in parts of the United States to help reduce the need for foreign oil and to reign in explosive fuel prices.  Recently, the mixture of alcohol-based fuels with petroleum fuels is seeing a resurgence.  The desire to wean ourselves from foreign oil combined with the need to find more sources of renewable, non-polluting fuels, has led to a movement towards ethanol-based fuels.

Ethanol is the alcohol found in alcoholic beverages.  As a fuel, it can be used either by itself to provide energy to a vehicle, or as an additive to a petroleum-based fuel.  The benefits of ethanol-based fuels are enormous:

  • First of all, ethanol produces far less pollution than petroleum. Less pollution = lessgreenhouse gases emitted.
  • Secondly, ethanol is made from the fermentation of certain crops, sugar and corn being two of the most popular.  In order to switch to supply automobiles with ethanol, millions of acres are needed for crops.  More plants have a positive effect on the environment as well, adding to the benefits of ethanol-based fuels.

Ethanol is not without problems.  Ethanol in a pure form produces less energy per gallon than petroleum based gasoline does.  This can have adverse effects on fuel efficiency.  To combat this, ethanol is often used as a fuel additive.  E85 is one of the most popular combinations in the U.S.  E85 is a mixture of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline.

Not all cars can operate on pure ethanol either and ethanol is not readily available to much of the U.S.  To combat this, flex-fuel cars are available to the consumer.  The idea behind the flex-fuel car is that is can operate on 100 percent ethanol, 100 percent gasoline, or any mixture in between.

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