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Driving Ethanol

Ethanol is the most used and subsidized type of biofuel in the world, particularly in the U.S. and Brazil. In order to promote the use of ethanol on the road, Growth Energy developed a website called Driving Ethanol to promote the benefits of this type of biofuel.

According to the Driving Ethanol website, ethanol is sustainable because it is made of plants. It burns clean and reduces greenhouse gas emissions by up to 59 percent from “well to wheel”. It says it reduces our need for foreign oil by by 661,000 barrels a day and tailpipe emissions by 30 percent.

One of the severest critiques of ethanol is that it competes with food crops. Organizations have warned against higher food prices impacting the world’s poorest. The use of cereals for industrial purposes may tighten the link between food and energy markets, increasing food prices. Driving Ethanol counter argues that the “food versus fuel” debate was ignited by big food companies who launched a PR offensive in 2007, claiming that ethanol was creating a higher demand for corn. Coincidentally, food prices did go up around the same time. However, corn prices began to drop. Their argument was based on outdated information and faulty logic, says Driving Ethanol.

Other ethanol issues that have been taken into account include deforestation, especially in Brazil, where sugarcane ethanol is widely popular, and air pollution. The latter is controversial because while ethanol-blended gasoline emits less carbon dioxide, ethanol production is more energy intensive than refining gasoline, thus generating emissions from burning fossil fuels during the distilling process. However, a USDA study claims that ethanol contains 34% more energy that it takes to grow and harvest corn and then distill it into ethanol. Driving Ethanol puts that figure at 67 per cent.

New technologies may improve ethanol’s net energy efficiency and environmental viability, says Driving Ethanol. They will make it possible for ethanol to be made from materials such as switchgrass, jatropha, wood chip, agricultural waste, non-food parts of current crops (stems, leaves, husks) and several other options. This is called second generation biofuel and there’s a lot of research being carried out in this field so new breakthroughs are likely to be announced in the near future. Currently, flex fuel vehicles (those that run on gas and ethanol) are designed to run on any blend up to 15 per cent gasoline and 85 per cent ethanol. They are called E85. Most auto makers have flex fuel models, and the cost difference is negligible, says Driving Ethanol.