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With the demand for oil rising, the price of gas continues to rise to astronomical levels. With oil levels all over the world falling, companies have been looking to alternative sources of fuel and energy for cars. Different forms of fuel have been emerging from many places. Scientists and Engineers have found alternative fuels in the form of alcohol, electricity, natural gas, bio-diesel, and a combination of gas and one of the other three. This never ending search for new and better fuel sources has opened up a new field and automakers are adapting to it as it comes. Although many new forms of fuel have been thought of or tested, perhaps the most promising alternative fuel source is a mixture of fifteen percent gas and eighty five percent alcohol referred to as E85 ethanol.
This form of fuel referred to as E85 ethanol is relatively easy to make. By breaking down the starches in varying crops and fermenting them an alcohol called ethanol is produced. When mixed with fifteen percent gasoline, cars are able to run just as efficiently as they would on one hundred percent gasoline. Every car is able to run on E85 ethanol, but due to its corrosive nature some cars may need a more sturdy fuel system and fuel lines. The process to replace these lines is relatively simple and costs between 400 and 600 dollars. While this may seem expensive, E85 should be cheaper than gas at the pumps if it becomes widespread.
Last year our nation used an astounding 140 billion gallons of gasoline. Of the 140 billion, 60 billion was imported from the Middle East. While these large amounts are being used only 4.3 billion gallons of ethanol were created (Crooks 1). While this is a small amount it is the first of many steps that should be taken to help solve our nation's dependency on gasoline and crude oil, both of which are non-renewable resources.
For years alcohol has been used in cars to make them run as an alternative source to gasoline. Henry Ford's original Model T was actually designed to run on both gasoline and alcohol. However, this technology has never reached the public and has not become a common fuel to the American consumers. The reason this technology is not used in cars everyday is because the lack of interest and the refusal of oil companies to change the product that they sell everyday.
The top five oil companies made over thirteen billion dollars profit, with the top company ExxonMobil making an astounding 36.13 billion dollars (Congressional Digest). With these outstanding profits, it is easy to see why oil companies are reluctant to change to the new technology of using ethanol fuel. However, with the introduction of E85 stations, the large oil companies will have no choice but to offer both products or change over to E85 ethanol. The E85 stations will cause loss of business for the oil companies hopefully causing them to change over to the new fuel. One of the most common ways to produce ethanol is using the starches in corn.
Although using corn to make ethanol seems like a good idea, it has many drawbacks as well. Using corn to make ethanol would seem smart because of the vast cornfields that the mid-west is known for. This would make sense to use corn because we grow it in our own country, which would make it easy to access as well as make us less dependent on importing oil. However, when using corn as the primary source to make ethanol, an increase in corn prices is bound to follow. The average vehicle getting 27.5 miles per gallon and traveling ten thousand miles, which are both averages in America, would need about 852 gallons of pure ethanol a year. This amount of ethanol would require eleven acres of land to grow enough corn to make that amount of ethanol. In order to make enough E85 to fuel the entire nation, about 97 percent of the land would be needed to grow crops (Pimentel). This is obviously not possible so other ways to make E85 have been experimented with.
Alcohol is made from the fermenting of different starches and sugars. This leaves many different things that can be broken down and fermented. One example is plants, which have cellulose in them, which can be broken down into sugars and further fermented into alcohol. Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan recognizes the potential for cellulosic ethanol. He states, "Corn ethanol, though valuable, can play only a limited role, because of its ability to displace gasoline is modest at best. But cellulosic ethanol, should fulfill its promise, would help to wean us off our petroleum dependence" (Crooks 2). A large company in Canada called Biomass specializes in making the ethanol fuel from wood stockpiles. The president of Biomass states, "Everything about this process, outside of our pre-treatment process, is known technology. The enzyme production, the fermentation, the distillation, everything is known technology. It's a very simple process" (Kryzanowski). This method opens up agricultural methods to produce ethanol.
Every year lumberyards leave stockpiles of wood chips to decompose naturally. When these piles are used to create ethanol, they can make as much as seventeen thousand gallons per day using twenty-five tons of the waste wood per plant. This ethanol fuel also burns roughly fifty four percent cleaner than pure gasoline does creating less of a pollution concern than oil based fuels (Kryzanowski). This would cause vehicles to create fewer emissions and therefore contribute less to environmental pollution. This cleaner burning would also create less of a concern for the ozone layer and global warming. The ethanol plants that would be built to utilize wood waste would also produce a methane by-product as part of the ethanol creation. This methane by-product can be used as a power source for the plants to create more ethanol when it is harnessed properly (Kryzanowski). This makes the plant even more cost effective when it can run partially on a by-product it produces.
Along with using wood stockpiles, cellulosic alcohol can be made from a tall grass like plant known as switchgrass. This grass is very easily grown and is a promising method due to its high percentage of ethanol yield. It usually creates eighty to ninety gallons of ethanol per ton of switchgrass, which is much higher than that of corn. Along with the higher percentage yield, switchgrass is shown to have three times the energy per gallon as the ethanol made from corn (Crooks 1). The Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that cellulosic alcohol could supply as much as half of the nations fuel by 2030, if the technology is utilized the way it should be. Despite supplying half of the fuel, this would still not affect food or animal feed production (Crooks 1).
By creating different forms of energy for automobiles, the United States can rely less on other countries for their oil supplies that we do not have. Using ethanol fuel by fermenting starches and sugars is not a difficult process and the transition to make an automobile run on ethanol is fairly simple and inexpensive. This process can take over as much as half of the nations fuel supply in less than twenty-five years without affecting food supply. This promise of decreasing our nations demand for crude oil is a tempting one. By decreasing our demand for oil, we lessen our dependence on foreign countries, as well as stop using a non-renewable resource. Along with the decreased dependence on oil, the switch to ethanol would decrease car emissions and pollution. The decrease in pollution would lead to less of a concern for global warming as well as smog in large cities. Ethanol production is an idea that should be considered more by our nation and is a serious alternative to gasoline as a fuel for automobiles as well as any internal combustion engine. Word Count: 1323
Crooks, Anthony. "From Grass to Gas." Rural Cooperatives 73.513 10 2006 16-42. 04 04 2007 .
Kryzanowski, Tony. "From Wood Waste to Ethanol Fuel." Logging and Sawmilling Journal (1998) 26 03 2007 .
Oil Company Profits." Congressional Digest. Academic Search Premier 86.401 04 2007 103-104. 13 04 2007 .
Pimental, David. "Ethanol Fuel from Corn Faulted as Unsustainable Subsidized Food Burning'."Cornell University 16 01 2006. 23 Apr 2007 .