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Alternative Fuels: Part 2 Ethanol

Posted by Blake Nijs on August 10 at 8:00 AM  An alternative fuel that has been around for more than a decade is ethanol. My personal experience with ethanol is limited. Every now and then I see a decal on the side of a S.U.V. while walking downtown claiming ethanol capabilities. I truly have never actually seen a recreational vehicle running on one of the many various mixes of ethanol and gas.


Ethanol is a liquid alcohol, which is produced from food products. Wheat and corn are the main sources of production. By distilling these foods creating sugar then fermenting the sugar, ethanol is produced. It is a simple fuel consisting of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen [1]. 

Ethanol can be run through any vehicle that was built from the 1980s and on. These vehicles can run a 10% ethanol mixture with gasoline called E10. Although there are many different mixtures of ethanol, the main two in use are E85 and E10. As said above E10 can be used on most gasoline-powered cars, and is available at some gas stations.

The best part about E10 is that the current distribution chain for fuels could remain as is. Therefore there would not be the need to renovate gas stations, refinery plants or containment systems [2]. E85 is a 15% blend of ethanol and gas, which can only be used in Flex-Fuel vehicles. These vehicles are produced to run on either ordinary gas or up to 15% ethanol fuels. E85 requires specialized dispensing equipment which one of the reasons why it has not been a wide spread success across North America. 

A problem that faces ethanol is its inability to be used in diesel engines on a large scale. Ethanol can be mixed with diesel fuel, but since diesel engines use a heat coil ignition system, this can cause problems for the engine. The ignition of ethanol is not like gas or diesel. It is less self-igniting; therefore it is harder on the engine to burn. Only through modifications to the engine can ethanol be introduced and stabilized. 

The idea of ethanol is a great start but poses many issues. For example to produce enough ethanol to run all residential vehicles in North America would consist of taking up all available farm land to produce enough fuel [3]. The repercussions of this are obvious; we would no long be able to grow our own food. In the future it is unlikely that there will be vehicles running on ethanol, it is simply a band-aid for our current environmental issues. With more research and time ethanol could potentially provide some temporary solutions but as an answer, it falls short.


[1] Unknown, . (2009, November 30). Ethanol the road to a greener future. Retrieved from

[2]  Unknown, . (Producer). (2009). Ethanol fuel: the road to a greener future. [Web]. Retrieved from

[3] Segelken, R.S. (2009). Ethanol fuel from corn faulted as ‘unsustainable subsidized food burning’. Retrieved from


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