Ethanol is an alcohol-based fuel made by fermenting and distilling crops that have been broken down into simple sugars. Ethanol can be used as a fuel for non-diesel engines (spark ignition) or as an additive to gasoline engines. In the U.S., ethanol is mostly manufactured from starchy crops like corn. In 2004, ethanol production utilized about 11 percent of all the U.S. grown corn, and that figure is expected to increase as ethanol use becomes more predominant.
Brazil, which produces large amounts of ethanol, uses sugar cane to manufacture the fuel. Brazil is the largest producer and consumer of ethanol in the world and has a goal of having all of its vehicles capable of running on ethanol or gasoline, in the next few years. Countries like Brazil, have made ethanol a viable alternative energy fuel because they have devoted time to research and government funding.
There are two types of ethanol fuel that are commonly referred to- e85 and e10. E85 is a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline that's used in flex-fuel vehicles. E10 is a gasoline blend that contains up to 10 percent ethanol. Many gasoline refiners are now using ethanol as an alternative to oxygenates that reduce fuel emissions. In addition, almost 5 million cars in the U.S. can operate on ethanol. They're called flex-fuel vehicles and are very similar to gasoline-only cars. The flex fuel engines are modified to use a sensor in the fuel line to control fuel injection.
Many individuals complain about the amount of energy that is required to produce ethanol, and its effects on the environment. Ethanol does burn cleaner than gasoline so therefore, it emits fewer greenhouse gases. The planting, maintenance, and harvest of corn and other ethanol crops require a lot of diesel fuel and petroleum-derived products and thereby reduce the benefits of ethanol.
All in all, ethanol is a renewable energy source, and it has less harmful effects on the environment. Like any other alternative energy source, it will need to be time tested in order to make the grade.