MSA 685 Project
Ethanol Fuel, a Cure for Dependency
July 4, 2008
The purpose of this study is to determine if the United States can curb its dependency on foreign oil by making ethanol. This study will look at the maximum capable output of ethanol and what that maximum output equates to in terms of becoming less dependant on foreign oil. It will also look at the effects on the environment and how ethanol performs compared to regular gasoline. With U.S. motorists’ demand for gasoline at 140 billion gallons annually and growing, ethanol’s current footprint of less than 4 billion gallons barely scratches the surface of the vast potential that exists. For ethanol to fuel a major portion of the national market, the industry’s feedstock portfolio must be diversified beyond corn. Cellulosic biomass, dubbed the most abundant material on earth, holds tremendous promise as a feedstock for ethanol production due to its widespread availability and potential for high fuel yields. Examples of sources for cellulosic ethanol include corn stover, cereal straws, sugarcane bagasse, sawdust, paper pulp, small diameter trees, and dedicated energy crops such as switch grass. Table 1 shows conversion factors for the different feedstocks. Ethanol is a clean-burning, high-octane motor 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, and 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. Today about 46% of America's gasoline contained some ethanol, most as this E10 blend. E85 - 85% ethanol and 15% unleaded gasoline
E85 is an alternative fuel for use in flexible fuel vehicles (FFVs). There are currently more than 6 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 available, 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 are "ethanol vehicles" and can use up to 10% ethanol with no modifications to the engine. Often people confuse E85 for "ethanol", believing incorrectly that not all vehicles are ethanol-compatible.
Mid-range blends of ethanol: between E10 and E85
The American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE) is leading efforts to attend to any technical or regulatory hurdles to using ethanol blends above 10%, such as E20, E30, or E40. If these higher percentages of ethanol could be used in standard automobiles, the U.S. could use a dramatically higher amount of renewable fuel, thus significantly decreasing our dependence on petroleum. U.S. Ethanol Production
U.S. ethanol production is reaching unprecedented levels, growing America's ability to supply a portion of its own transportation fuel. Currently there are 158 ethanol production facilities operating in the U.S. and 51 more under construction. Today, about 40% of the nation's ethanol facilities are owned by farmers and other local investors. These ethanol cooperatives have driven the growth of the industry over the past decade. Today's roster of ethanol plants under construction includes some locally...
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