Oct 06 2007 12:43 pm

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Uncovering a Biofuel: Ethanol

Ethanol is alcohol fuel derived from sugars found in crops such as rice, potato skins and sugarcane and it is commonly made from corn, sorghum and wheat. Corn is commonly the base material in the United States due to its affordability and availability. But in Brazil, sugarcane is widely used. Since it is produced from plants, it is considered biodegradable and renewable. It is definitely a clear, colorless alternative alcohol fuel. Presently, various methods are used in making ethanol from biomass – an organic material. The fermentation of sugars and starch in corn with the use of yeast is the most frequently method utilized. From starch, it is fermented into sugar, afterwards it is fermented again into alcohol.

A variety of procedures can generate fuel-grade ethanol. But the most widely used is the dry-mill method. Below is the brief step by step process.

1. Let the base organic material (corn, sugarcane, wheat, etc) pass through a grinding meal to pulverize the selected material.

2. Then, liquefy it by placing the blend of water, grain powder and an enzyme that facilitates the breakdown of the grain compound into a high-heat cooker.

3. Cool it afterwards. Add another enzyme that will facilitate the conversion of starch into sugars which are then fermented, producing alcohol from the cooled mash.

4. Start the fermentation by adding yeast to the sugar mixture. The sugars will be broken down to ethanol (a form of alcohol) and carbon dioxide.

5. Distill the fermented mixture in order for the ethanol to separate from the solids.

6. Get rid of the water from the separated ethanol through a dehydration process.

7. To make it undrinkable, add a small amount of gasoline. The ethanol should be non potable to be used as an alternative fuel.

The carbon dioxide and distiller grain which are both byproducts of this method can be use in the ranching and farming industry. Ethanol-producing plant also buys these by-products for a variety of purposes.

Utilizing ethanol means using less of the nonrenewable fuel to produce gasoline. Ethanol is safe, nontoxic and biodegradable. It is not detrimental if accidentally spilled because it breaks down very quickly. It is considered clean for the main reason that it lessens toxic pollutants such as carbon monoxide from the pipelines of vehicles. It does not require lead or other derivatives to keep the engine running smoothly. It has a great probability of decreasing the greenhouse gas emissions because of the fact that biodiesel is primarily derived from crops which absorbs carbon dioxide. Thus, the balance of carbon dioxide is sustained and maintained in the atmosphere.

On another note, ethanol as a transportation fuel can be utilized as a partial or total alternative for conventional petroleum diesel. For urban regions that don’t meet the standards of a clean air, gasoline containing 10% ethanol (E10) is utilized. The extensive use of E10 is encouraged in some states. The use of E10 can be used on all gasoline operated vehicles without making massive modification to their engines. In the United States, almost 99% of ethanol produced can be blended with gasoline to make E10.

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