What is Ethanol?

information courtesy www.ethanol.org

Ethanol is a clean-burning, high-octane fuel that is produced from renewable sources. At its most basic, ethanol is grain alcohol, produced from crops such as corn. Because it is domestically produced, ethanol helps reduce America’s dependence upon foreign sources of energy.

Pure, 100% ethanol is not generally used as a motor fuel; instead, a percentage of ethanol is combined with unleaded gasoline. This is beneficial because the ethanol:

* decreases the fuel’s cost
* increases the fuel’s octane rating
* decreases gasoline’s harmful emissions

Any amount of ethanol can be combined with gasoline, but the most common blends are:

E10 – 10% ethanol and 90% unleaded gasoline

E10 is approved for use in any make or model of vehicle sold in the U.S. Many automakers recommend its use because of its high performance, clean-burning characteristics. In 2004, about one-third of America’s gasoline was blended with ethanol, most in this 10% variety.

E85 – 85% ethanol and 15% unleaded gasoline

E85 is an alternative fuel for use in flexible fuel vehicles (FFVs). There are currently more than 4 million FFVs on America’s roads today, and automakers are rolling out more each year. In conjunction with more flexible fuel vehicles, more E85 pumps are being installed across the country. When E85 is not avaialble, these FFVs can operate on straight gasoline or any ethanol blend up to 85%.

It is important to note that it does not take a special vehicle to run on “ethanol”. All vehicles can use E10 with no modifications to the engine. E85 is for use in a flexible fuel vehicle, so some people confuse “ethanol” with the blend of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline.

U.S. ethanol production is reaching unprecedented levels. In 2004, 3.4 billion gallons of ethanol were produced in the nation, up from 2.81 billion gallons the previous year. By the end of 2005, the ethanol industry reached a capacity of more than 4 billion gallons. This dramatic growth does not show signs of stopping.

Currently there are 103 ethanol production facilities in the U.S. and 52 more under construction. Dozens more are in various stages of planning.

Today, nearly half of ethanol plants in the U.S. are farmer-owned cooperatives. Additionally, a sizeable percentage of the facilities under construction are also locally controlled.

With few exceptions, corn is the primary feedstock for U.S. ethanol production. Ethanol can also be made from other products such as grain sorghum (milo), wheat, barley, sugar cane or beets, cheese whey, and potatoes. Cellulosic feedstocks such as municipal waste or recycled products, rice hulls, bagasse (fibrous residue from sugar cane), small diameter trees, wood chips, and switch grass may also be used to produce ethanol, but these products are not yet utilized on a commercial scale.