What is Ethanol – Pros and Cons – AEN News

A poplar tree farm is used to make cellulosic ethanol more sustainable in the U.S.

Ethanol is considered today as an alternative fuel to gasoline and diesel because increases the octane number of the fuel and lowers the level of harmful emissions released by the vehicle.

What is Ethanol? – Definition

Ethanol is a clean fuel made from biomass containing sugar (crops like corn, sugarcane, barley and wheat), and is considered a better and cleaner fuel than gasoline because improves the octane number of the fuel that contains ethanol and lowers the emissions level.

Ethanol can be mixed with regular gasoline, and the most common blend of these two fuels is known as E85, which means that this fuel contains 85% of ethanol and only 15% gasoline.

The more ethanol is in the fuel, the more clean and powerful is the fuel.

Today, almost all vehicles can run on fuel that contains up to 10% ethanol, but only a small number of vehicles can run on fuel using a higher percentage of ethanol.

E5 and E7 are other common blends of ethanol that work well on engines that run on pure gasoline.

E10 is a fuel mixture (known as gasohol) that contains 10% ethanol and 90% gasoline and works very well in all modern vehicles and even light-duty trucks without the need of any modification made to the engine or the fuel system.

E70 and E75 are alternative fuels used during the winter in the U.S. and Sweden by the vehicles running on E85 flexible-fuel.

E70 contains 70% ethanol and 30% gasoline, while E75 contains 75% ethanol and 25% gasoline.

Both these flex fuels are sold at the pump under the label of E85 (and are used mostly during the winter to avoid cold starting issues at low temperature).

E85 is the most common blend containing 85% ethanol and only 15% gasoline and is mostly used in the U.S. and in several European countries (Sweden).

E85 reaches an octane value between 94 and 97, which is much lower than pure ethanol, but higher than regular gasoline (octane between 87 and 93).

ED95 is an ethanol-based biofuel used in modified diesel engines and contains 95% ethanol and 5% ignition agent.

The fuel was produced by a Swedish producer of ethanol called SEKAB, and was successfully used by many Swedish Scania buses starting with 1985.

Stockholm uses today the largest ethanol ED95 bus fleet in the world to reduce the level of harmful emissions released by the public transportation service in the city.

E100 is ethanol 100% and works in pure ethanol vehicles, and recently in flexible-fuel vehicles produced by several carmakers.

Pros of Ethanol Fuel

Being considered an alternative to fossil fuels, ethanol is today a biofuel that can successfully replace gasoline and diesel in the future to reduce the level of harmful emissions of the vehicles with internal combustion engines.

1. Ethanol is a Biofuel That Can Lower the Level of Emissions Released by the Transportation Sector

Being classified as a renewable energy source and an alternative to fossil fuels, ethanol is considered today a biofuel producing lower emissions than gasoline and diesel.

Flex fuels based on ethanol are already used in many countries on the planet as an alternative to gasoline, and ED95 is successfully used in Sweden for more than three decades to power Scania buses.

Corn-based ethanol reduces the level of emissions released by a vehicle from 18 to 29% (compared to the level of emissions released by petroleum-based fuels).

2. Ethanol is Produced from Cheap Raw Materials

Ethanol is produced from biomass containing sugar (sugarcane, wheat, corn and barley).

Crops grow in almost all countries of the planet, which means that the raw materials required to produce ethanol can be easily obtained and are cheaper than fossil fuels.

3. Ethanol Can be Produced From Any Potential Living Plant Organism

In the U.S., ethanol is produced using crops such as corn, wheat and barley, while in Brazil is produced from sugarcane.

However, ethanol can be obtained from any potential living plant organism, including here algae and even grass, which means that ethanol can be cheaply produced from several types of biomass.

4. Ethanol is an Energy-Balanced Fuel

I mentioned before that ethanol is produced from corn in the U.S. and generates 1.06 units of energy for any 1 unit of energy used.

Ethanol produced from sugarcane in Brazil is even more productive, generating 8 units of energy for any 1 unit of energy used.

A new type of ethanol called cellulosic ethanol, proves to be the most productive type of ethanol, known today because generates 36 units of energy for any 1 unit of energy used.

5. Ethanol Can Be Easily Implemented Using the Existing Infrastructure

In the U.S., there are more than 2,000 fuel stations selling E85 today.

Refineries can easily use biomass rich in sugar to produce ethanol, while the piping system used to transport the fuel and the distribution network can easily be modified to switch to ethanol instead of gasoline and diesel.

6. The Production of Ethanol Generates Useful Byproducts

The production of ethanol, produces dried distillers grains (DDGs) and releases CO2.

By attaching a carbon capture technology to the device producing ethanol, the CO2 produced can be used in cryogenic freezing, for the production of dry ice and as agent for pneumatic systems.

DDGs can also replace soybean meal and cornmeal in animal food stocks.

7. Ethanol Generates Lower Emissions than Fossil Fuels and is also Biodegradable

Any fuel containing ethanol has an improved octane number and lower emissions.

However, if spilled, more than 74% of it will be broken down during a time period of only 5 days, proving that this crops-based biofuel is more than friendly with the environment.

Cons of Ethanol Fuel

Ethanol is a very useful biofuel for mankind because it can lower the level of emissions released by the transportation sector, but there are also a few downsides related to this alternative fuel, mostly created by its high price and its low effectiveness compared to traditional gasoline.

1. Ethanol is less effective than gasoline

Ethanol is a cleaner fuel than fossil fuels, but is less effective than regular gasoline because an engine running on pure ethanol will consume more fuel than a similar engine running on gasoline (40% more).

However, a flex fuel vehicle running on E85 will consume 25% less fuel (than gasoline engines) and even 30% less in the city (some modern models).

2. Ethanol is Highly Corrosive

Ethanol is a corrosive fuel and cannot be transported through pipelines without retrofitting the pipes.

Having the ability to absorb water, ethanol becomes highly corrosive, which makes it hard to transport over long distances without using special tanks, which cost more.

3. Crops Used to Produce Ethanol Occupy a Large Surface of Land

In the U.S., ethanol is mostly produced from corn, and even if the U.S. is the largest producer of corn in the world, the surface of land occupied with crops for ethanol production covers 40% of the production.

Corn has a volatile price in the U.S. and its general tendency is to slowly grow, which will also increase the price of the fuel.

4. Food or Fuel?

Only in the U.S., where corn production is the highest in the world, about 40% of the production goes towards ethanol production instead of being used as food.

Some say that the use of corn for ethanol production has increased the price of food in the country, while others say that ethanol has nothing to do with the increased prices for food.

However, technology has shown that corn-ethanol is inferior to cellulosic ethanol.

5. Small Number of Fuel Stations Selling Ethanol in the U.S.

There are about 2,000 fuel station in the U.S. selling ethanol, and this small number is not enough to make ethanol a popular fuel among car and bike owners.

6. It is an Alternative Fuel that Generates Costs

Ethanol is a heavily subsidized fuel, but the financial effort required to make this alternative fuel more popular will worth only if ethanol will become the main fuel used by vehicles around the world.


Any financial effort made today to promote alternative fuels will worth its price if there is a possibility to make the transportation sector cleaner.

Magda Savin
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Magda Savin

I write about the renewable energy sector, electric cars and climate change issues.
I love nature and good food, so I travel all over the world to see new places and meet new people.
Magda Savin
Magda Savin
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One Response to "What is Ethanol – Pros and Cons – AEN News"

  1. R. White says:

    Thought I would point out a few errors in hopes of educating others:

    E10 is by far the most common blend found, not even close.

    E100 is not to be used in flex fuel vehicles, and it is not approved for any transportation use in the U.S.

    Latest research on energy balance of corn ethanol is a few years old, but still much improved over the numbers mentioned here. That research states that for every BTU of energy in, you get at least 2.1 out, and much more in some facilities. This number continues to improve.

    There are over 4,100 E85 stations in the United States.

    Nearly 90% of the vehicles on the roads today in the United States are approved for E15, or 15% ethanol.

    The fuel economy loss predicted on E85 is not realistic in the real world. Most experience around 15% loss in fuel economy, some more, some less. The price discount for E85 is over 21% nationally in the United States, netting a price savings for those that opt for E85.

    Ethanol is transported in pipelines daily. Look at Kinder Morgan in Florida as an example.

    You mentioned distillers grains earlier, but did not back their value out of the corn production statement of 40%.

    Corn price is also not changing much. Price of corn today is the same as it was in December 2007, or tens years ago.

    Nearly every gallon of gasoline sold in the United States contains ethanol. The statement that only 2,000 offer ethanol is simply inaccurate. More than 130,000 stations offer some blend, and more than 4,100 offer E85.

    Ethanol has not been subsidized since 2011. Even then, it went to the blender, not the producer.

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