What Is Ethanol Biofuel And How Is It Green?
Ethanol is a chemical that releases a lot of energy on combustion with a lot less pollution than traditional fossil fuel gasoline. It is a great fit to dilute fuels and combusts in a less polluting way. Commercial gasoline is already a blend consisting of about 10% ethanol for the normal pumps. The mixtures come in a few standard classifications, the common ones are E15 and E85 gas which will be the topic of this article.
We will introduce it, its advantages, as well as how we make it, and some notes about how we can make it better.
Ethanol is an organic material we can produce out of sugarcane corn or even seaweed and therefore we can plan its production accordingly. The lifecycle from starch to powering a car could be as short as a few days. We can produce it out of recycled organic material or waste biomass from consumers. Differing from other sources of sustainable energy, biomass can be converted to liquid biofuels. Which we can use for biodiesel or the ethanol-petroleum mixture mentioned before. It is another example of the use of the concepts of biofuels
What is E85?
E85 gas, commonly referred to as flex fuel, is a high-level mixture of gasoline and ethanol that contains 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent fossil gasoline by volume. However, geographical location and season have an impact on the amount and type of ethanol. In the winter the volume of ethanol in the mixture is lower. The reason is that corn and sugar, which are the mainly used raw materials are harvested in summer. By that typically the blend will contain more ethanol over the summer.
Among all ethanol fuel blends, the flex fuel gets the most attention. The adoption of it is fast of the fact most petrol stations sell it. The last contributes to the economic reasoning of the technology and helps to fast develop the industry. When combusted E85 releases significantly fewer pollutants as reported on eflexfuel’s site. Up to 15% fewer greenhouse gases will be released into the atmosphere in comparison to the use of a traditional 10% ethanol and crude oil mix. It is also cheaper than other fuels, especially in countries like the United States or China which are the biggest producers and exporters of corn. In those countries, E85 gas will typically cost approximately 12 cents less per liter compared to fossil gasoline. In Europe, prices are typically higher partly as a result of different taxation policies.
To understand the situation in Europe epure.org wrote an interesting report. They compare the emissions generated by a flex-fuel car when using e85 gas and traditional E0 petroleum.
The little disadvantage of E85 fuel
Despite its many environmental benefits, the E85’s fuel efficiency is inferior in comparison to the traditional blend. In comparison to petroleum, it has a lower energetic density or less stored energy per unit volume. Practically speaking it means your car will drive for fewer kilometers per liter of petrol. The difference is currently quantified at around a 25% percent efficiency deficit, which somehow eliminates the cheaper price in some places. Another problem with the energetic deficit is that it leaves consumers a little confused when they need to compare one type of fuel to another.
However, the main goal of using this fuel may not be to save money on gas, but rather to transform aspects of our society into sustainable production. That will be possible only if we consume less fossil crude oil both for transportation and for the plastic industry. Countries that will adopt this methodology will also benefit from lessening their dependency on foreign sources to fulfill their energetic demand.
Where is it accessible?
E85 gas is more widely accessible in the Midwest region of the United States than in other regions. The reason is that the area contains most of the corn farms. Another value E85 has in this reference is that a preference for locally grown products reduces transportation emissions and supports the local economy. There are 3300 E85 gas stations open to the public across 42 states as the US Department of energy reports. In Europe, France and Sweden are the most developed countries in the adoption of flex-fuel as reported by Epure. The last is an association of European sustainable ethanol producers. They united in representation in front of the authorities to promote the wider adoption of a higher volume of green ethanol in fuel blends.
In Europe, wheat and maize are the most common raw material in use for ethanol production. An alternative crop frequently in use in Latin America for ethanol production is sugar cane. For example, sugar canes are a significant source of ethanol in Brazil which is also the country with the highest concentration of ethanol in fuel. Furthermore, they have adopted a minimum volume of 25 percent ethanol in the blend back in 2013.
How Do We Make E85 Gasoline?
As we explained before E85 gasoline is a blend of petroleum derivatives with ethanol or bioethanol.
The production of those biogasses is possible by fermenting and distilling sugars and carbohydrates. Those substances are ethanol’s fundamental building blocks. Different crops or the same but differing in area of growth will produce different qualities of bioethanol. This happens because of the difference in sugar types and concentrations, just as different diets will provide your body with more or less energy.
As we said earlier, corn can and is used to make ethanol. Unfortunately, corn doesn’t produce as much energy as some of the alternatives such as sugar does. Now, sugarcane isn’t a typical crop in many countries like the United States, so if we tried to use that specific feedstock, it might make things worse by increasing cost. So, the key to producing cost-effective bioethanol is the use of locally available crops. Since ethanol is an organic compound we can produce it in many places around the world without too much technology. This is a great advantage to any technology, especially in the perspective of post covid times after seeing how chains of supply can break in a matter of weeks.
This is not a discovery, no wonder we use ethanol for 5000 years now as the alcohol in alcoholic drinks. The production of ethanol consists of two major steps that we will next cover, fermentation of sugars and distillation of the raw product.
You must ferment your organic matter to make ethanol out of it. Fermentation is simply the mixing of sugary or starchy substances with yeast to produce alcohol and carbon dioxide. Yeast is a microorganism that consumes sugar or starch to produce energy and excretes bioethanol and carbon dioxide once done. That’s the same process involved in the production of beers or any alcoholic drink that comes to your mind. After the fermentation process is finished you have left a mixture of ethanol and its byproduct, water fumes, and carbon dioxide. As you can imagine water cannot be burned in an engine and therefore we must remove it in a process called distillation which will be the next step.
In this step, the fermented mixture of ethanol and water will be heated to about 85 degrees Celsius. The reason for that is that ethanol’s boiling point (or vapor pressure) is lower than the one in water. Meaning that in such a temperature ethanol molecules will start evaporating while leaving the water behind. Those freshly brewed bioethanol fumes rise through a tube at the top of the tank, into another container. There are several types of distillation methods each facility with a unique setup and solution for heating the raw product. Some examples of those methods are pot stills commonly used for whiskey production, vacuum stills, reflux stills, and solar stills. Solar stills and reflux stills are the two methods most commonly applicated to in-home ethanol production systems because of their low installation cost.
Wet milling is another method you can use to make ethanol and is utilized in some commercial-scale facilities by some of the biggest manufacturers. This technique is useful for the production of bioethanol from grains, like wheat maize corn, or rye. With wet milling, after the grains have been gathered, the grain germ, oil, starch, and gluten are all separated and processed further to yield a variety of beneficial byproducts. One of these is high-fructose corn syrup, which is a sweetener found in many prepared foods such as maple-flavored syrups.
Refined corn oil is another byproduct that can be later sold both for food production and for the energy sector, like as a raw material for biodiesel. Additionally, during the wet milling procedure, gluten is removed and sold as a feed supplement for livestock, swine, and poultry which help to further reduce the price of the end product to the consumer.
Can we make it at home?
Yes, almost anyone can make e85 at home. Just like the name suggests, it is 85% ethanol blended with 15% standard petroleum derivative.
To make your bioethanol you will have to invest some money upfront, but the benefits will be enormous. If you buy the crop, let’s say corn for example you can create your e85 for about 25 cents a liter (or almost a dollar per gallon). If you will grow your corn, it will cost you about 15 cents for each liter(or about 60 cents per gallon). Here are some steps to follow in producing your e85 gas at home.
The Conversion Process
This is the process of exerting sugar from the grains. Sugars from carbohydrates, like maize starch, must be broken down into mash forms. This is done by crushing or grinding raw materials like corn or soybeans. You then add alpha amylase after dilution to create a liquid out of the mixture. Once liquified, glucose amylase is added to further break down the starch into sugar. This conversion stage can be bypassed if the source is primarily sugar, such as rotten fruit from home, Brazillian molasses, etc.
Next, you begin to ferment the sugars. You make it into a beer or wine-like solution by adding yeast. The process as explained earlier can be done in many techniques and adapted to all scales of production.
The third step is distillation. To extract the alcohol from the beer or wine-like solution, it must be passed through a still. This has also been explained above.
At this point there are too many organic volatiles presents, so the ethanol needs to be filtered. You can do this with the syringeless filters. The purpose is to simply remove impurities to make sure you don’t hurt the lifespan of your engine.
The fifth step to making your e85 fuel is dehydration. There is a requirement to “dry” the ethanol. After distillation, the ethanol you have produced will contain some water. You can remove this water by passing the ethanol through Zeolite, a substance that is easily accessible in hardware stores and fits well for drying ethanol.
This is the last stage and what turns your ethanol into e85 fuel. Simply mix 15-20%(remember gasoline have some ethanol in it already) unleaded gasoline with your ethanol to turn it into e85.
What can we power with this ethanol biofuel?
The most common use of ethanol biofuels is to power flexible fuel vehicles. Flexible fuel vehicles (FFVs) have internal combustion engines that run on ethanol E85 gas or any gasoline-and-ethanol mixture with a concentration of up to 83%. Since the 1990s, automobile companies have started manufacturing FFVs. There are currently 35 different types on the market. Moreover, some car engines can be modified to run on flex fuel without the need to change an engine. Looking at the gas cap is one of the simplest methods for you to tell if a car is flex fuel. If it is, it’d contain an FFV label. This label is yellow and has a list of the fuels that can be used safely on this engine.
The fuel type will also be noted on a label inside the fuel door. Additionally, you can look for Flex Fuel or E85 badging on the car or the eighth character of the VIN. However, it’s crucial to make sure that any E85 you put in a flex-fuel car is E85 exclusively. By using the wrong type of fuel you can cause a lot of harm to your car, so please double-check.
Reducing transport emissions in residential areas is also beneficial to the health
Using e85 gas in densely populated areas reduces the concentration of combustion pollutants. The vast car traffic in our cities comes with an expensive health cost. Using eco-friendly fuel on a larger scale helps us to keep to air clean and healthy, although most cars are private, the air is a common resource.
E85 gas is another promising technology supporting our effort to fight climate change. Although how we grow the raw materials is also very important and should be improved as well for the fuel to be fully sustainable it is another step in the right direction. Ultimately there is no one solution that will solve the entire problem and we are fans of the approach of solving many local problems to drive the bigger change. The growing availability of this fuel is also encouraging because it gives us the consumers another way to be active. As we often mention for the situation to change we as consumers are responsible to support those who work for the cause with our buying habits.
We will keep updating you as the trend evolves and in the meanwhile let us know what you think about it in the comments.