Ethanol, (also known as grain alcohol because it is made most often with corn) is probably the most well known alternative fuel in the world today as it has been around for many years. Using ethanol as an alternative fuel is a great way to shave your gasoline costs and help the environment and our farmers too.
As everyone is no doubt aware, there is already a commercially available alternative fuel ethanol product on the market called E85. E85 is the term for blended fuels made up of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline. E85 is an alternative fuel as defined by the U.S. Department of Energy. Besides its superior performance characteristics, ethanol burns cleaner than gasoline and is a completely renewable, domestic, environmentally friendly fuel that helps the nation’s economy and energy independence.
Although Ethanol is generally made from corn in the United States, it can also be made from other organic materials including agricultural crops and waste, plant material left from logging, and trash including paper.
Brazil is easily the largest ethanol producer in the world and makes the majority of their ethanol from sugar cane. There are now several projects underway in California with the aim of converting some of the state’s agricultural waste, like rice straw (that is now burned in fields), into ethanol. Ethanol, as an alternative fuel, has really come a long way from the early concepts.
In the past, most people believed that it took more energy to make ethanol, than it could give back and for the most part, this was true. However, technologies have advanced in such a way that it is possible to dramatically increase the efficiency of producing ethanol.
Corn ethanol is made today by converting the starch in corn into sugars and then into alcohol through the process of fermentation. A Canadian company has invented a process for converting agricultural waste such as corn stalks, husks, etc. (corn “stover”) and other cellulose rich plant waste like straw into ethanol by using enzymes.
Using ethanol as an alternative fuel is only one part of the alternative fuel trend. There are many other alternative fuels being developed in the “green” movement, but the reality is that ethanol, already exists as an alternative fuel that is commercially available. It will be developed by leaps and bounds over the next few years and it could well become THE alternative fuel for the future.