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E85 ethanol

Current Ethanol Logo


          “OVER HERE!” “No! Over here!” “We have this!” “But, We have this!” MAKE YOUR STAND! Chances are, if you are, or will be driving in the next decade, you will be faced with the decision of whether to continue choking the Earth and your wallet with that expensive gasoline, or take the risk of relying on a newfound, experimental solution to your transportation dilemma. The two sides will grab at your arms, giving you the facts that promote their opinions. The unfortunate truth of the matter is that at this point, nearing the end of 2012, a general consensus cannot be determined regarding biofuel.  What do you need to know to make your decision when that time comes? How will biofuel ease or burden your personal economic situation? Are you saving the world by throwing down the expense for alternative fuel? Or does this solution, like any other, come with its own deep, dark secrets that can defeat its own purpose?  What lengths will you have to go should you decide to be the first neighbor who goes truly green, right down to his everyday transportation? Will an ethanol fuel station even be present within a practical distance to your residence? Maybe you’ll fight for what you believe and do whatever it takes, drive the distance, pay the price, or pollute the sky, depending on what is best for your situation. In reality, it is nothing more than a choice, meaning it is open to everyone, and everyone will have a different view; a different need. Back to the question, “What should I know?”, everyone deserves to take an objective look into the future of ethanol and biofuel usage, being left to weigh the good and bad for themselves.

AFDC E85 stations by state Nov 18 2010

Ethanol Fuel Availability

            Put your own situation before anything else right now.  What about the ethanol production affects you personally?  The first thing that should come to most readers’ minds is the gradual increase in the cost of a gallon of gas, and our general economic distress of recent.  Someone may make the case to you that ethanol is the savior for the rest of humanity, but all-in-all, what does it do to the individual? In July of 2008, when petroleum gasoline fuel was being sold at an average price of 3.1 dollars for every gallon, the cost of a gallon of ethanol-based biofuel stayed around 2.5 dollars per gallon. One must keep in mind that ethanol’s lower efficiency dissipates the advantage in price it has over petroleum, however more and more efforts are being made to create cheaper biofuels such as sugarcane ethanol, which competes today in the same price range as petroleum.  While prices stay lower than petroleum, the demand and subsequent supply of ethanol has rapidly increased.  In the year 2000, the United States was home to a mere 54 ethanol-fuel processing plants.  That total has spiked to over 200 in 2008, and is expected to exponentially become over 300 by the end of 2012 (Gupta 13.2). These are quite possibly the most important numbers to the majority of readers, as the gas economy has been destructive to consumers during its ten year rise.[1]

Big of Ethanol station map

Locations of Current Ethanol Plants in the United States

            Another economic characteristic to think about when discussing biofuel, is the number of jobs created to produce it.  Looking at relative numbers in comparison, when setting oil next to other forms of energy, awe-inspiring numbers come forward in this era of unemployment.  A graph given in Ram Gupta’s book on biofuel knowledge shows that one employee is required to produce one “unit” of energy through fuel.  Meanwhile, hydroelectric and coal power require 3 and 4 employees respectively to produce the same amount.  Ethanol and biofuel production requires the cooperation of, wait for it… 152 workers to produce that “unit” of energy! The installation of a biofuel plant can directly employ 20–50 employees, with employment count reaching as high as 133 jobs when indirect employment is included (Gupta 13.3). 

            Availability is a key factor in fueling my transportation.  Often times, before I think to compare prices between separate petroleum gas stations, I will simply pull up to the nearest pump, bite the bullet, and watch a percentage of my daily earnings guzzle into my vehicle. Sometimes I may just choose the station on my side of the road before glancing at the price displays.  It is a vague question that can be described perfectly here, “How far are you willing to go for ethanol?”  If the fuel is less convenient than petroleum factoring into your weekly routine, will you be willing to go out of your way to find the right pump? Approximations say that over 2,900 gas stations offer the most common form of ethanol-based fuel blend, known as E85.  In comparison, this is only a small fraction of the 160,000 petroleum-specific gas stations in the United States [2].  The convenience of ethanol can depend on your geo-location from these numbers. I for example, am from a town in Ohio where the population spikes at around 1,400 citizens within a half-hour drive.  We aren’t the center of anything, and I don’t see any neighbors showing enough interest in green fuel for a company to feel obligated to drop an ethanol fueling station into our rural economy.  If your situation is similar to mine, the low number of ethanol stations in the U.S. can be an instant turn-off, because it is nearly impossible to justify driving any significant distance, using your fuel, to re-fuel.  The thought of this inefficiency cannot be ignored.

E85.percent.ethanol.nevc.500-758964

            Ethanol’s impact on your environment may be your biggest concern.  If we see ethanol in the news, from my experiences, it is usually being praised as the savior of the ozone, cleaner of the rivers, and clearer of the smog, among other things.  However there are a few things to think about before we set biofuel on that high of a pedestal.  Ethanol may be the cleaner of the two once we’re pouring in the tank, but manufacturing takes a toll on the environment. Soil destruction can result from overusing the same land for identical crop harvests, stripping the land of its nutrients.  Ethanol production is changing the way America farms, altering the layouts, productivity, and contents of many rural areas.  The desirable ethanol crops are taking land from other necessary farming products such as livestock and other goods, which leads to higher food prices due to less supply.[3]

             As I’ve made clear, there really is no right or wrong answer for the world.  The idea of biofuel is simply going to be an individual choice for everyone for the foreseeable future, based on the individuals’ preferences and other situational needs. Everyone must choose if they are willing to make certain sacrifices of the environment to take the economic route, or vice-versa.  The truth is that ethanol is relatively young, biofuel has space to grow and improve on all aspects of its functionality.  As further research and advertising is revealed, the decision may become easier or harder.  Biofuel carries a lot of weight in our current world’s environment and economy, one the macro and micro scales, ensuring that the debate and decisions involving biofuel will be lingering for decades to come.

National Ethanol Conference

References Edit

  1. Gupta, Ram B.; Demirbas, Ayhan (2010). Gasoline, Diesel and Ethanol Biofuels from Grassesand Plants..Cambridge University Press.Online version available at:http://www.knovel.com/web/portal/browse/display?_EXT_KNOVEL_DISPLAY_bookid=3970&VerticalID=0
  2. Hilbert, D. (2011, June 30). High Ethanol Fuel Endurance: A Study of the Effects of Running Gasoline with 15% Ethanol Concentration in Current Production Outboard Four-Stroke Engines and Conventional Two-Stroke Outboard Marine Engines. Retrieved November 22, 2012, from http://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy12osti/52909.pdf
  3. Humbird, D., Davis, R., Tao, L., Hsu, D., & Aden, A. (2011, May). Process Design and Economics for Biochemical Conversion of Lignocellulosic Biomass to Ethanol. Retrieved November 22, 2012, from http://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy11osti/47764.pdf

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