Ethanol is the same type of alcohol that is found in alcoholic drinks. It can also be used as a fuel for motor vehicles, usually as an additive to gasoline. Most modern cars are designed to be run on a blend of ethanol and gasoline. In order to use a stronger blend of ethanol, or to run on pure ethanol, it is necessary to use a specially designed engine. Ethanol fuel is most commonly used to power cars, but it can also be used as fuel for other vehicles, including planes and boats.
Ethanol production for car fuel has increased rapidly in the last decade. In the year 2000, worldwide ethanol production for fuel was 17 billion liters. By 2009, production had increased to 19.5 billion liters. The largest consumers of ethanol as a car fuel are the United States and Brazil. Together these two countries produce 89 percent of the ethanol that is used for fuel.
Ethanol can be used as the sole fuel for a car, but it can also be added to gasoline. Most cars in the United States are capable of running on blends of up to 10 percent ethanol. In some cities and states, such a blend of gasoline and ethanol is mandatory. The use of ethanol as a fuel additive has been mandatory in Brazil since 1976. Cars in this country currently have to run on a blend that consists of 25 percent ethanol. There are also over 10 million cars in Brazil that can be run on pure ethanol.
Bioethanol is a renewable source of energy since it is derived from plants that can be grown, harvested and replenished. Ethanol can be produced from many different plants. Crops such as potatoes, sugar cane, maize and manioc are most commonly used to produce ethanol for fuel, although a wide range of different plants can be used to produce ethanol. Another possible source of ethanol is the cellulose that is present in the walls surrounding every plant cell. Cellulosic ethanol is expected to become an important source of ethanol fuel in the future.
Ethanol is a renewable source of fuel when it is derived from plants that are being grown in a sustainable manner. When ethanol is used instead of gasoline, carbon dioxide emissions are decreased. Burning ethanol fuel is also much cleaner than burning gasoline. It does not produce the same particulate pollution as gasoline.
Ethanol fuel has been criticized for the amount of work that needs to take place in order to produce it. Plants must be grown, harvested and converted into ethanol, all of which requires energy. However, the amount of energy and fuel that is required to produce ethanol depends on the type of crop that is being grown and on the production methods that are being used. The energy balance, which is a comparison of the amount of energy that goes into production to that, which is produced, is usually favorable, although how favorable it is depends on what is being grown, and where.
Another concern that has been raised over the use of ethanol for fuel is that it could take crops and land away from food production. This could lead to increases in food prices or even, potentially, to shortages in food in some areas.
Ethanol can be used as a fuel additive or as an alternative to gasoline. It can also be used as a source of power for electricity production. Ethanol is not the only biofuel that is available. It is possible to read more about biofuels including ethanol and biodiesel at PennEnergy.org.