A great amount of attention has been given to fossil fuels especially now that it is a subject of much debate because of climate change and rising oil prices. Much attention has been shifted towards alternative energy sources one of which is ethanol—fuel made from crops and even from cellulose. Ethanol has been under fire for claims that it is not a viable source of fuel and because it has fueled an increase in food prices after former United States president George W. Bush called for the mass use of ethanol. However, this is not the real case.
Ethanol has proven to be a viable source of energy, even better than fossil fuels. The Importance of Ethanol Ethanol received much attention after 1970 when oil supply was low and had negative impacts on the economy of the United States and it became an issue of national security. This urged the Congress to pass the National Energy Act of 1978 which breathed life to gasoline containing 10 percent ethanol. From 1979 to 1980, ethanol production increased from only 10 million gallons to 175 million gallons annually.
Increased awareness of environmental factors such as the depletion of the ozone layer and climate change also triggered increased usage of ethanol (Nalley & Hudson 2). In one aspect, ethanol would not have been used before if it was not a viable source of energy. Capabilities of Ethanol According to the Canadian Renewable Fuels Association, ethanol blends are the most cost effective ways of cleaning the environment at this time. Using a ten percent ethanol blend results in a twenty five to thirty percent reduction in carbon monoxide emissions by making combustion more complete in an engine.
The same ten percent blend lowers carbon dioxide emissions by six to ten percent. A key point of the ten percent blend is that the carbon dioxide released by ethanol production activities and inputs, combined with its use, is less than is than the amount that the plants absorb used to produce ethanol and the soil organic matter. (Quoted in Nalley & Hudson 7) Ethanol has great potential in competing with the petroleum market, particularly in the blend market and the neat market. The neat market composes of 85% ethanol and the rest of gasoline while the blend market is composed of 10% ethanol and the rest of gasoline.
Today, many vehicles are being produced for the blend market but many engines are still unable to run in the neat market. Modern gas infrastructures are also compatible with blended gasoline but not for neat gasoline. Blended gasoline may be more viable because it is an oxygenate. Oxygenates aid in the burning of fuel since it helps the fuel burn completely. On the other hands, neat mixtures are regarded as a direct alternative to fossil fuels. Since the neat mixtures are regarded as alternatives, there is a need for it to compete in terms of energy content, mileage, as well as cost.
In terms of energy content, neat mixtures may find it hard to compete since it only contains three quarters of the energy in gasoline. Neat fuel mixtures however found its place in transit buses and government fleet vehicles (Nalley & Hudson 8). Gasoline with ethanol is a good alternative to pure gasoline. Since fossil fuel prices are high, this will reduce spending on foreign oil which many countries are trying to achieve. Ethanol may come from a variety of sources such as biomass, corn, sugarcane, grains and even from cellulose.
While ethanol from biomass can be costly to produce, an alternative way to produce ethanol from biomass is being developed. This process is called countercurrent hydrolysis and is expected to save $0. 33 for every gallon of ethanol, produced. On the other hand, biomass ethanol will become economically competitive through enzyme hydrolysis. Cellulase, which is currently used in the textile industry, can replace sulfuric acid which is currently being used in making biomass ethanol. Using cellulose will save time and the costly transport and storage of acids.
Switching to cellulose will require heavy funding but this is better in the long run (Nalley & Hudson 11). On the other hand, in Australia another study proved that ethanol from sugar cane can also be viable but this is dependent on several factors such as oil prices. Its commercial viability is also dependent on government intervention such as the “continued availability of full exemption from fuel excise” and other assistance that the government may provide to investments in ethanol production (Naughten 36).