Ethanol is a renewable fuel that can be made from different types of plant materials, known as biomass. Biomass can include trees, grasses, different types of crops, algae, and other biological material.
Ethanol can potentially be made from any crop or plant that contains a large amount of sugar. It can also be made from parts of plants that can be easily converted into sugar, such as starch or cellulose. In the United States, ethanol is produced mostly from the starch in corn kernels.
Most types of ethanol can be produced using a four-step process:
The crops or plants used to make ethanol are ground up for easier processing
Sugar is dissolved from the harvested plants, or the starch or cellulose is converted into sugar
Microbes feed on the sugar, producing ethanol and carbon dioxide as byproducts
The ethanol is purified to achieve the correct concentration.
For more information on the process of making biofuels and other options, please see the Biofuels Page.
Pros of Ethanol
Energy Independence: Ethanol can be made from crops grown in the United States, therefore, reducing the dependence on foreign oil.
Clean Energy: Ethanol burns cleaner and emits fewer greenhouse gases than gasoline.
Livestock Feed: Dried distillers grain produced as a byproduct can be used as a form of feed for livestock.
Cons of Ethanol
Lower Mileage: Vehicles that use ethanol will get slightly fewer miles per gallon than vehicles that use gasoline or diesel fuel. This is because ethanol has a lower energy content than gasoline or diesel fuel.
Fuel or Food?: Corn and other crops that are used in ethanol production are not available as food for humans and livestock.
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