Despite its advantages over MTBE, ethanol does have limitations. It has a lower BTU than gasoline, making it less powerful. It costs more to produce a gallon of ethanol fuel than it does to produce a gallon of gasoline. Ethanol is also corrosive to some metals, gaskets, and seals, and ethanol air mixtures can be explosive in the ambient temperature range. Land space is also a limiting factor, as large amounts of land are required for corn production.
Also, the substitution of ethanol has been noted to cause negative impacts on climate change. Despite the fact that it does not emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, it does release other toxins, and it does not reduce air pollution. Brazil's air quality worsened during the big ethanol push in the 1970s. Compared to gasoline, ethanol produces less benzene and butadiene when burned, but more acetaldehyde and formaldehyde.
Driving the strong political backing for ethanol are energy security concerns, agricultural interests, and environmentalists. In the future, a drive for better efficiency could force ethanol to compete with electric cars and fuel cells, as well as gasoline. The trend for fuel seems to be shifting toward ethanol. In India, the blend of ethanol in gas is expected to double in the next few years. Brazil, because of their efficient sugar cane production, already produces ethanol for about 40 percent less than gasoline. More testing is needed on the health and environmental issues surrounding ethanol. As testing increases, cheaper ways of producing ethanol will be implemented. Engines will likely become more efficient, and more cars are likely to come with ethanol-ready parts.
Ethanol also enhances the performance and maintenance of many old and new cars. Since etha-nol burns at cooler temperatures than gasoline, it does not burn valves. It may loosen noxious wastes and residues, usually in older cars, which have been deposited by previous gasoline fuels. However, changing the fuel filter will correct the problem and increase the performance of the car. Ethanol is used in aircraft as well, because it offers a low volatility, high-octane fuel to replace gasoline. Unlike many other fuel types, such as regular unleaded, unleaded plus, diesel, and premium, it can be used in any type of engine. Ethanol decreases the amount of water accumulated in an engine while providing better engine longevity. However, many people question whether ethanol provides good performance if used without gas line antifreeze.
Ethanol appears to be viable as an alternative fuel. Once solutions are found to its pollutant problems, ethanol may become even more desirable. It appears to be better for the environment than gasoline. It may create jobs, and free the United States from dependence on foreign oil. An electric hybrid using etha-nol fuel may be the future of the automobile industry. Ethanol as an alternative fuel is a good, currently available solution to the problem of diminishing fossil fuel supplies.
sEE ALso: Alternative Energy, Overview; Automobiles; Carbon Emissions; Energy, Renewable; Oil, Consumption of; Oil, Production of.
BIBLIoGRAPHY. S.T. Leong, S. Muttamara, and P. Laor-tanakul, "Applicability of Gasoline Containing Ethanol as Thailand's Alternative Fuel to Curb Toxic VOC Pollutants from Automobile Emission," Atmospheric Environment (v.36/21, 2002); Manitoba Energy and Science Technology, "Ethanol FAQ: Homegrown Energy," www.gov.mb.ca (cited August 2007); T. Regan, "In Brazil, The Driving Is Sweeter,"
CBS Evening News, www.cbsnews.com (cited August 2007); J. Schneyer, "The Money Lying Down to Brazil," BusinessWeek (v.70, 2007); J.S. Swanson and A.C. Newton, "Mixtures of UK Wheat as an Efficient and Environmentally Friendly Source for Bioethanol," Journal of Industrial Ecology (v.9, 2005); U.S. Department of Energy, www.eere .energy.gov (cited August 2007).
DeMond S. Miller
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