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Discussion in 'After Hours Lounge (Off Topic)' started by Chu Gai, Jun 15, 2006.
There are a lot of disadvantages to Ethanol such as lower energy usage, questionable economics, and the inability to use pipes to transport the ethanol.
Biodiesel is a much better alternative and doesn't have the disadvantages that Ethanol has.
Pure ethanol in a fuel cell achieves 60% energy conversion, which is more than three times as much as you would get in an IC engine.
YOu have to remember a couple things though...
It's fully renewable right here in our own country, plus if it catches on more, would be a major export (the raw corn, not the Ethanol)
It's in it's infancy right now (yes it has been around for a long time, but in the last 5 years has it been giving research to improve it). As more research goes into it, it will become a better fuel. You think gasoline was great in it's first years? Man, just 30 years ago the majority of it still had lead!
No, and no. "Fully renewable" ignores the fact that growing the corn relies heavily on petrochemicals for both fertilizer and tilling machinery. Also, soil depletes as stuff is grown in it. Much of the soil in this country already works as little more than a sponge for water and chemical fertilizer which crops could not grow without. Then there's the problem of the ongoing depletion of the ogallala aquifer which has to be taken into account.
Not only it could never be a major export, but also it could not even begin to replace gasoline. It requires a great deal of cropland, more than we have, to grow enough corn to make the Ethanol to replace our current use of petrochemicals.
Other countries also have beter climates to grow crops that make much more sugar than corn. Imagine the trasnsformation that could be achieved in places like Africa using modern irrigation and farming techniques. They could grow fuel crops and export ethanol and biodiesel to the world.
The big problem I would see there would be political stability and volatility. But I think that many people in Africa would welcome economic opportunity, and the chance to give their children what they see the rest of the world having.
Large amounts of fresh water would be a prohibitive difficulty and expense. Luckily we have the Ogallala (for now at least). Brazil with their sugar cane seems to be the most successful plan like this.
Actually, I think it was UT [and surprisingly not A&M] who developed a process to "crack" cellulose with ammonia, in order to produce ethanol from agricultural wastes such as corn-stalks, which are currently burnt. This would be far superior to the method of making it from corn, which requires additional resources over and above the amount raised as a food crop, and really constitutes nothing more than yet-another agricultural subsidy. In any case, while Henry Ford originally intended to use ethanol as a fuel, and only switched to gasoline because it was a waste product from the kerosene refineries of the day and he could get it very cheap, there are present-day problems with using it as a motor-vehicle fuel. Since alcohol is hydrophilic, while gasoline is hydrophobic, the current storage and transport infrastructure of tanks, pipelines, &c. is quite unsuitable — in fact, ethanol has to be sent to its destination by truck at present! This last fact has caused a rise of gasoline prices in My Fair City, where there is a useless mandate to blend 10% of ethanol into the gas, to replace a highly toxic additive called MTBE, which was supposed to reduce smog by oxygenating motor fuel [promoting more complete combustion]. Of course, this only really makes any difference in cars without catalytic convertors, but who cares? The Brazilians didn't have that big of a distribution infrastructure in place when they started their ethanol drive ; here in the US, the changeover would require only somwhat less work than going over to hydrogen, which is probably the better choice over all.