Renewable Energy Ethanol

America's dependence on energy sources from overseas could be reduced if the renewable energy ethanol was considered a viable energy source and produced more aggressively.

What is ethanol? Ethanol is an alcohol derived from grain. It's an energy source produced from corn or sugar cane. Ethanol is an efficient and clean burning source of fuel or energy.

How is it renewable? The beginnings of ethanol are in the growing and harvesting of corn or sugar cane. Both of these crops require sunlight to grow. Ethanol is categorized as a renewable energy since the energy ethanol produces was made using sunlight.

History of Renewable Energy Ethanol

  • 1850s - ethanol was used as fuel to light lamps

  • Civil War - the government taxed ethanol, so use decreased significantly

  • 1908 - Model T designed that could run on a blend of ethanol and gasoline

  • 1919 - 1933 - ethanol is a grain alcohol, so it was banned during the years of Prohibition

  • 1940s - ethanol supplemented fuel resources when others were difficult to come by

  • 1970s - increased interest in ethanol for fuel purposes

  • 1975 - Brazil launched a program called Pro-Alcool. Essentially, the program forced vehicles powered by fossil fuels to phase out and vehicles designed to utilize a blend of gasoline and ethanol were encouraged. Even today Brazil's vehicles use a blend of gas and ethanol and as a result, have much less dependence on foreign energy sources.

  • 1988 - U.S. added ethanol to gas in an effort to reduce C02 emissions

  • Currently - renewable energy ethanol has been quite the buzz word over the last few years as the dependence on foreign oil sources is becoming more intense given the political scene, which makes gas much more expensive.

How is Ethanol Produced?

Ethanol begins as a feedstock, which at this point in time is either sugar cane or corn. Brazil uses sugar cane and the U.S. uses corn. Scientists say that potatoes, barley, cassava, wheat, and sorghum are potential feedstock sources for producing ethanol as well at some point.

The first step in the production of ethanol is preparing the feedstock for a successful fermentation process. The feedstock is prepared by several different methods, which produces a solution. The solution is heated to 185 degrees Fahrenheit to bring down the bacteria content to a reasonable level.

Fermentation is the next step in the production of ethanol. In order to begin the fermenting process, yeast is added to the heated solution. As the mash ferments, it goes through a number of fermenting tanks until it reaches the final tank, where it could stay for up to 2 days.

The third step is distillation. At this point, the mash has an alcohol content of about 8% to 10%. The distillation process separates the solids from the alcohol, which produces a product that is 4% water and the rest ethanol.

Dehydrating the alcohol comes next. The 4% water content is removed during dehydration, leaving pure ethanol.

Denaturing is a process that ethanol must undergo if it's slated for use as a fuel.

Do you want to know what is really interesting about the ethanol production process? There are two by-products left over at the end of the process: CO2 and distiller's grain. The grain contains tons of healthy nutrients that can be fed to livestock. The CO2 is collected and sold to other companies.

Think of it this way - ethanol itself is a renewable energy source and it produces two by-products that can be used for other purposes to boot!

Uses for Renewable Energy Ethanol

  • Motor fuel
  • Transport fuel
  • Products - perfumes, recreational alcohol, explosives, nail polish remover, paint and more

Who is Using Ethanol As Fuel?

Brazil is currently the best example of a country using renewable energy ethanol fuel sources effectively. Brazil has mandated that all vehicles manufactured must be able to utilize a blend of 75% gas and 25% ethanol.

As a result of the mandate, Brazil has forced 10 million vehicles that use fossil fuels exclusively off the road. Not only that, they have manufactured motorcycles and trucks that can operate on a blend of fuel as well!

The United States isn't as far along as Brazil, but they are manufacturing a few vehicles that can utilize a gasoline and ethanol blend of fuel of about 90% gas and 10% ethanol. Hopefully that number will increase as the benefits of ethanol are thoroughly researched and realized.

There are other countries in addition to the U.S. and Brazil who are trying their hand at ethanol production: Thailand, Columbia, Germany, Australia, France, India, Spain, Canada, Sweden, some countries in Central America, and China.

The more countries that recognize the benefits of this clean renewable energy source, the better chance it has to truly make a difference in the fuel industry and ultimately for the environment and for the inhabitants of the earth!

Challenges Facing Use of Renewable Energy Ethanol

Vehicles driven by fuel blends that contain ethanol require access to fueling stations that sell the blend of fuel made for their vehicle. There are more cars on the road today that can use the ethanol blended fuel source, but the fueling stations are few and far between, making the switch a real challenge.

In January 2011, the Environmental Protection Agency approved the use of an ethanol-blended fuel called E15 for vehicles manufactured between 2001 and present day. As exciting as that news is to hear, the challenge is now to convince the gasoline gurus to actually market the E15 fuel and make it readily available to consumers.

It's likely that those in the gasoline industry are afraid their profits will decrease if they welcome another fuel source to enter the market. It's also possible that if they take that chance, the exact opposite will happen.

Another challenge facing the ethanol industry is that many people are still unaware of the environmental benefits ethanol offers to the country and to the world.

Marketing these benefits to America and the world can only serve to bring this fuel source into the limelight and possibly help reduce dependence on foreign oil sources while providing a clean, renewable energy source.

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