Ethanol-A fuel source?
The top producers of ethanol are the U.S and Brazil. Both countries take different approaches in how they create this ethanol however. The U. S uses corn, using fossil fuels to burn it, creating ethanol and using the scraps for feeding animals. In the view of an alternative fuel source to fossil fuels, this is not an effective way as it requires fossil fuels for production, adds to the greenhouse effect and does not provide enough energy in return. Brazil however has taken what seems to be a better approach to creating ethanol. Using sugar cane instead, they use scraps they cant use to provide the heat needed to create the ethanol. They have been developing and working on this method for many years and are appearing to have a sustainable source of fuel. However both of these countries, if continuing to create ethanol can suffer from the 'fuel vs food' effect. A fear many people have about using 'food' to create fuel is the fact that it can divert attention away from growing food. This debate has good and bad sides like all debates do such as price of food, environmental issues, obesity and so on. As less food is being grown food prices can be expected to increase. This can be seen as a bad thing, however some argue that it may solve the obesity issues. Environmentally however, ethanol as an alternative fuel source does not seem sustainable enough to be environmentally friendly.
There are many advantages associated with using ethanol as a fuel source. The obvious being the fact that it is made from plants, making it renewable, burning cleaner and is biodegradable. It can also increase the price of some crops that could be used for the production of the fuel. However with advantages, there are also many disadvantages. Firstly, ethanol costs more and produces less energy then what it is trying to replace. Like all combustions it also eventually ends up adding to the oz ne layer, through the production and as a fuel. As mentioned above, concerns with food come into effect and the required land needed is huge. The waste products from the creation of ethanol, called swill, even though can be used as a soil conditioner, is harmful to aquatic life. The problem of corrosion takes place during the burning of the fuel, as water is produced. So looking at this information, where does Australia stand? Schemes and managements have been looking into using ethanol as an alternative fuel source. By using E 10 (having 10% ethanol in fuel) the thought of reducing greenhouse emissions were expecting to drop, however research has shown that this has little to no effect on the emissions. The leading producer of ethanol within Australia is Manildra, and thoughts to add and upgrade places to produce ethanol was thought. This however can be seen to produce greenhouse emissions instead of preventing them.
The flow of energy. Solar energy is captured by the plant. The plant is converted into ethanol (detailed below) which is then used by a car. During combustion CO2 and water is created. The CO2 goes back into the air and is used by plants once again. Water can playa problem however by corroding roads. However it could seep into the ground and be used by plants once again.
The process of producing ethanol has been around for many years. As time goes on this process has been more refined, resulting in a few methods of production. One being 'dry milling'. This process involves the sugar (sugar based plant) being ground into a powder. This powder is known as 'meal'. 'Mash' is then formed by adding water and creating a slurry. Enzymes are then added, breaking down the starch into dextrose. Ammonia is added to control pH levels and as a nutrient to the yeast which is later added for fermentation. During fermentation, ethanol and CO2 is created. After fermentation, distillation is used to separate the anhydrous ethanol.
This is one way to achieve ethanol. Through research and testing, advances in the process of obtaining ethanol is improving, resulting in different ways to create it, and to create ethanol which yields more energy. At the moment, ethanol as an alternative fuel source is not sustainable enough to replace what we have now, and also can cause problems such as corrosion. In society, this can cause problems on roads and with the economy. For those concerned, it can help greenhouse emissions but only by a small amount.
Another area of research is the crop that is converted into ethanol. In America, there is a promising research showing of a better alternative to corn. Switchgrass can be adapted to grow in almost all areas, an grows faster. There is no need for fertilizers and it fights erosion better than most plants. It can take 10 years before the need of replanting and can be baled with regular farming equipment. It can produce more energy than corn and other crops and researchers are developing a way to increase its hardiness and yield. Australian research however has shown that switchgrass requires 45% more fossil energy than the fuel produced.
Ethanol as an alternative fuel has had, and will have many impacts. The two main being related to the environment and the economy. As fossil fuel sources are diminishing, the search for a better alternative is increasing. This causes many people to look into ethanol. Ethanol can be grown in just about every country, increasing the independence of countries. It has been shown to reduce emissions and if researched may be able to become sustainable enough to replace fossil fuels completely. With countries growing their own ethanol they will not need to rely on the middle eastern countries for oil, thus changing the economy. Within Australia is has been researched that within the next 3 years, greenhouse gas emissions are expected to be reduced by 70-75%. This is because of advancing technology. Ethanol helps reduce smog and some research does show it produces more energy required to make it. Another aspect would be the engines required to run the ethanol fuel. Manufacturers have many cars able to use blends of ethanol, but the step to cover every car usage with ethanol can be enormous. Governments also show signs of clinging onto fossil fuels (oil) to keep money. Reverting to an alternative fuel would demolish this prospect.
So through research, ethanol as an alternative fuel source is becoming a reasonable solution to replacing the fossil fuels, and to help with greenhouse emissions. Brazil and the U.S have procedures in place and are developing better ways in producing ethanol and Australia is grasping onto the concept with the idea for a cleaner and renewable fuel source. However due to the implications (that ethanol requires more energy and that it requires more emissions then it prevents), ethanol as an alternative fuel is still a while off. Future research may provide areas in which we can improve the efficiency of the fuel. For Australia, advances are being found and it could just be a matter of time before ethanol can be converted without the need of fossil fuels at all.