Ethanol, also called grain alcohol or ethyl alcohol, was first utilized to produce alcoholic drinks, and through the years, it has been converted and developed to its different forms. It was used to light lamps during the pre-Civil War and it also helped in running the first roster of Mbodel T vehicles. However, ethanol could not compete with petroleum's availability and low cost, thus, people never used it again. Today, the unabated oil price hike and the search for alternative energy source are the primary reasons why people use and develop the said fuel. Among the developments of ethanol is the invention of E85. E85 is an alternative fuel known to burn cleaner gas. Experts say that E85 is environment-friendly and that it can help in building a nation that is energy independent. One may wonder what makes up E85 due to the benefits it gives and can it really suffice man's need to reduce oil consumption.
Ethanol is the major component of E85. Ethanol, C2H6O, is ethane with a hydrogen molecule substituted by a hydroxil radical. It is colorless, flammable and a moderately toxic chemical compound that has a unique, perfume-like smell.
Ethanol, before it was used as a main alcoholic drink ingredient, is usually produced through fermentation -- the carbohydrates' presence by specific yeast species when oxygen is not available. Ethanol is deemed as a depressant and a psychoactive drug component of liquors. Alcoholic drinks with over 50% ethanol in a volume (100 proof) are flammable while alcoholic drinks with too much ethanol results to more than 191.2 proof, which is not edible.
Ethanol today is utilized as an alternative fuel for it can be blended with regular gasoline. It increases octane and improves the emission quality of burnt gasoline. Ethanol can be blended with gasoline to produce alternative transportation fuels like E85, a blend of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline.
The oxidation of ethanol can form ethanal such as acetaldehyde, an organic chemical compound present in coffee, fresh bread, and fruits. Ethanol can be oxidized with acidified Sodium Dichromate (Na2Cr2O7), or with acidified potassium permanganate (KMnO4), or with acidified Potassium Dichromate (K2Cr2O7). If ethanol is excessively oxidized, it can produce ethanolic acid (acetic acid), a chemical compound responsible for giving the vinegar its pungent smell and sour taste.
Another component of E85 is gasoline or petroleum. Gasoline is usually utilized as fuel in internal combustion engines and the only known establishments who produce gasoline are oil refineries. The regular gasoline is made up of hydrocarbons with between 5-12 carbon atoms in a molecule. Iso-octane or benzene enhance gasoline to add octane ratings, the most relevant feature of gasoline. Octane ringmeasures the gasoline's resistant spark-ignition internal combustion engines.
One gasoline type that is utilized in producing E85 is the unleaded gasoline. Studies show that unleaded gasoline has at least 15 hazardous chemicals present in different amounts from 5%-35% by volume of gasoline. Among the dangerous chemicals are benzene, toluene, naphthalene, trimethybenzene, and MTBE.
It can be said that E85 can be manufactured simply by blending ethanol with gasoline. This claim might be true but it is important to know that E85 production undergoes several stages.
The first stage is ethanol production. It is produced through fermenting feed stocks such as sugarcane, sugar beets or any feed stock that has enough amount or quantity of sugar or any substance that can be converted into sugar, like starch. The United States, the world's second major producer of ethanol, uses corn to acquire ethanol because corn contains ample starch.
Ethanol can be produced through either dry milling or wet milling but most producers use the dry mill method where the starch of the corn is acidified into sugar then purified into alcohol. The first course in dry milling is hammering of feed stocks until they become powder. The powdered feed stocks or meal is combined with alpha-amylase and water, then the mixture is heated to cookers to liquify.
The mixture or mash from the cookers is chilled so that the secondary enzyme can be mixed to let the liquified starch to dextrose or turn into fermentable sugars. This process is called saccharification.
After the saccharification method, fermentation takes place where the mash is added with yeast so that the sugar will be fermented to carbon dioxide and ethanol. In the next procedure, which is called distillation, the fermented mash, known as beer, is pumped to the multi-column distillation system to separate alcohol from the water and solids.
The next process is dehydration where the excess water of the alcohol is eliminated. If the ethanol produced will be utilized as fuel, then it undergoes denaturing. In this procedure, 2-5% amount of gasoline is mixed with ethanol so that it cannot be consumed by human. This process is usually done at ethanol plants.
After the production, ethanol is distributed to E85 fueling stations where it is blended with gasoline. It is easy to store and dispense E85 because existing diesel or gasoline fueling systems may be utilized but it must be kept in mind that only compatible materials should be utilized in E85 storage and dispense.
The production of ethanol, including E85, receives a lot of commendations especially when it was utilized as fuel to substitute regular petroleum. Studies have shown that the utilization of ethanol fuel reduces air pollution and lessens the need for imported oil. Apart from being a component for alcoholic beverage production and as an alternative fuel, ethanol is also utilized as solvent, in preserving specimens, and in manufacturing thermometers.
Some experts say that ethanol is a great help to make the country energy-dependent but critics say otherwise. Speculations relate that ethanol production is inefficient for the energy consumed in creating ethanol is greater than the energy that ethanol can produce. Some also say that E85 makes running cars ineffective. Debates and arguments about ethanol's energy efficiency heat up but the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) proves that ethanol production is worth the country's while.
The USDA's study, which is entitled, The Energy Balance of Corn Ethanol: An Update, is a follow-up of an outdated USDA report in 1995, which revealed that ethanol production results to 24% gain in net energy.
In the latest study, USDA states that the production of ethanol produces 34% more energy than what is utilized in planting and harvesting grains and purifying or distilling them into ethanol. It also concluded that fertilizer industry's low use of energy, increased yields of corn, and technologies in the conversion of fuel helped in the technical and economic ethanol production in the country.
Apart from the 34% positive gain in energy, ethanol production uses mainly domestically accessible energy like natural gas and coal, which makes the production more economical. All this citations lead to USDA's finding that 1 Btu of liquid fuel utilized in ethanol production produces 6.34 Btu energy output. This simply means that the energy that ethanol produces is more than the energy used in harvesting and distilling corn to acquire ethanol.
With regard to the efficiency of E85, calculations say that even though ethanol contains lesser energy than gasoline, E85 has higher octane thus, FFVs gain 5% horsepower. Loss of fuel mileage cannot also be blamed to E85 because it only occurs depending on the way a person drives and the terrain's condition.
The positive energy balance that ethanol provides made it as the leading transportation fuel that is environment-friendly. It also aids in reducing the need for imported oil due to the energy it produces. E85, because of its uses and availability, is undeniably among the most in demand commodity in the country today. Countries like the U.S. depend on ethanol in the pursuit of cutting its oil importation and to have a healthy environment. E85 has been utilized for quite some time now and as its development continues, consumers are all hoping that E85 will be the answer to have a better and efficient source of energy.