Ecology And Environment

New Fuel Cars Running on Ethanol



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Ethanol is not the answer we all hoped that it would be in our newly founded fuel-crazy' American world. In fact, Ethanol may be the worst thing that could have happed to the American economy in the last decade.

Ethanol is a fuel source derived from plant matter, corn and cane sugar are the primary sources used throughout the world. There are other forms of plant life that Ethanol can be produced from such as switch grass and corn-stocks, but these are more commonly referred to as cellulose biomass' fuels and are not used nearly as much because of the extra amount of energy needed to convert into a usable fuel source.

Ethanol we have for sale in the United States comes primarily from corn. Corn is a major staple in the American food cycle as it is used in almost everything we eat, everything that has been processed that is. Corn is used as a natural sweetener and natural filler, it is used in nearly every cereal sold and in most all bottled beverages. Corn is also a major portion of the feed used to raise pigs, cattle and chicken that we eat on a daily basis. If you were to order a meal from McDonald's there would be some form of corn in every item that you eat; the soda, burger, bun and even in the fries. Corn, as far as the United States is concerned, is something that we cannot live without.

Why is that information important? What connection could our food possibly have to Ethanol?

When the production of Ethanol increased from 1 billion gallons in 2000 to 7.5 billion gallons in 2007 the price of corn went from $1.80/bushel to $3.80/bushel on average. If corn were gasoline that price shift would be like going from the current U.S average of $3.15/gallon to nearly $10.00/gallon.

In the past year the price of beef and dairy have risen nearly 40% in the U.S, primarily do to the extra cost of the grain (read corn) that is used to feed the livestock. Milk and cheese have always seen slight increases, like most things these prices have been reflective of the rate of inflation. Now however, these prices are skyrocketing because of the increased cost passed onto farmers who use corn to feed their animals.

Ethanol, as a fuel source, is only 70% as efficient as its gasoline counterpart. For every gallon of gasoline that is burned you would have to burn 1.42 gallons of Ethanol to achieve the same energy output. This means that a car, say a Ford Taurus, burning gasoline will average 25mpg on the highway but when it burns E85 (85% Ethanol, 15% gasoline) it will only average 18mpg on the highway (fueleconomy.gov).

Yes, Ethanol burns cleaner than does gasoline, but at what cost? In a 2007 issue of National Geographic, also mirrored by a University of Cornell research study, examined the actual cost of creating and burning Ethanol. They found that in order for the consumer to burn 1 gallon of Ethanol 1.4 gallons of fossil fuel must be used in its production. For every single gallon of Ethanol fuel used in cars on U.S streets 1.4 gallons oil based resources must be used. These numbers take into account the diesel used to plant, harvest and maintain the crop, the fuel used during the distillation process and that of the transportation to fueling stations for consumer use.

So why not use Ethanol to power the tractors, semi delivery trucks and distillation plants? The yield of energy on Ethanol is so low that there is no possible way to maintain a 100% Ethanol based cycle, there must be a secondary source somewhere along the production line. For reference, after distilling, the actual energy used to create 1 gallon of Ethanol requires 131,000 BTU of outside energy. 1 Gallon of Ethanol contains 70,000 BTU of usable energy.

Ethanol is not the answer to any problems, in fact Ethanol is the creation of many more problems that we have to deal with now and more so in the very near future. Ethanol as derived from corn is not a renewable resource and should no longer be considered so. Ethanol does more damage than does gasoline to the environment and economy.

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