In this paper I will explore the use of ethanol as an alternative fuel source. Ethanol is considered a renewable energy resource; as it is derived from crops such as: corn, sugarcane, beets, as well as, other organic materials. The use of ethanol could decrease our dependence on ever depleting supplies of fossil fuels; such as oil. In this paper, I will briefly review how ethanol is produced in different parts of the world. I will also review several of the advantages of using ethanol as a renewable source of energy for the transportation sector. Many environmental organizations support the use of ethanol as it burns cleaner than fossil fuels. Ethanol is considered a renewable resource because it is plant based. Additionally, this paper will review several of the common disadvantages of using ethanol as an alternative fuel source for the transportation sector. One of the main issues is the amount of farm land required to produce enough ethanol to significantly offset the amount of fossil fuel currently consumed. This paper will also review current United States policies that support the use of ethanol by American consumers.
Ethanol as a Transportation Fuel
One of the major problems the world is faced with today is what to do about our dependency on fossil fuels. Petroleum dependence is a big problem for the United States because the supply will eventually be depleted if consumers continue to use it at the current rate of consumption. In an effort to find a viable alternative to foreign oil, many politicians and environmental groups have been heavily promoting the use of alternatives fuels such as ethanol. The continued increases in oil prices, strong farmer support, government subsidies, and environmental concerns have led to major expansion of global ethanol use over the last few years. Even though its use has increased over the past decade, ethanol has been around for several centuries. “In 1908, Ford Motor Company’s first car, the Model T, used corn alcohol for fuel energy (gasoline)” (Ethanol Fuel History, March 2009).
Ethanol is produced by the fermentation of starches or sugars. The usual starting material is corn, sugarcane, sugar beet, or certain types of grasses. Fermentation is the same process used in the production of alcoholic beverages. It can be either mass-produced by fermentation of sugars or from cellulose. “Brazil, the Saudi Arabia of sugarcane, is the world’s second largest ethanol producer after the United States. About 45% of Brazil’s motor vehicles run on ethanol-gasoline mixtures produced from bagass, a residue of sugarcane” (Miller, T., Spoolman, S., 2009, pg. 218). Corn is the most common crop used for ethanol production in the United States. Reports and experts are showings trends that the use of commodities such as corn and sugarcane are impacting both the economy and the environment in a negative way. Food prices and fuel prices are on a record increase due to the excess demand for fuels. There are advantages and disadvantages to using biofuels.
The following are some of the advantages of the use of ethanol. Ethanol-blended fuels can reduce the net emissions of greenhouse gases. The emissions produced by burning ethanol are less than those produced by burning gasoline. “In 2007 an EPA study estimated that using corn ethanol would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 22% compared to burning gasoline” (Miller, T., Spoolman, S., 2009, pg. 218). In the United States, ethanol is primarily derived from corn which is a renewable resource that is grown by American farmers. Ethanol also benefits energy security as it shifts the need for some foreign-produced oil to domestically produced energy sources. Some forms of crops used for ethanol production produce a high energy yield. “Using switchgrass to produce ethanol yields about 5.4 times more energy than it takes to grow it” (Miller, T., Spoolman, S., 2009, pg. 218).