Corn Ethanol

Corn Ethanol is ethanol made from corn, and more specifically from the starches found in corn. Corn ethanol is both a blessing and a curse. Corn ethanol has the most modern popularity amongst all forms of ethanol fuel. It is touted as the environmentally friendly (or 'green') weapon that will once and for all slay oil. The bad news is that corn ethanol is very unlikely to be the solution. Growing corn for e85 corn ethanol as opposed to for human consumption poses a problem. The land is valuable for use as a food stock as well. Corn ethanol is no free ride. There are also studies that show that the production and conversion of corn to corn ethanol ends up being not as environmentally friendly as it is hyped up to be. Nor is corn ethanol very cheap, as the EROEI (energy returned over energy invested) is not all that spectacular. The good news is that corn ethanol is gaining popularity for one big reason. It is true that the consumption of corn ethanol is more environmentally friendly than is the consumption of gasoline... its just that the environmental, financial, and energy investment is very high. E85 stations may have a tough time staying in business on corn ethanol as they would barely be able to profit off the e85 pricethey pay! As far as making ethanol at home is concerned, corn ethanol may be a good temporary solution, but not likely to be worth it in the long run. Especially if you have to pay for an ethanol conversion kit, which will just be an extra cost to recover, its going to take longer to break even. Corn ethanol may be worth looking into if you already have one of the ethanol cars, but if you don't, corn ethanol may not help you to save much money.

Corn Based Ethanol

When you compare Corn based ethanolto OTHER forms of ethanol, this is where you discover the blessing. We already know that the consumption of ethanol is 'greener' than the consumption of gasoline. And corn based ethanol only differs from other forms in the respect of how ethanol production occured. And we know that the primary drawback of corn based ethanol is the relative failure of the production process. However, other forms of ethanol exist. In other words, corn is not the only way to answer the question of how to make ethanol. Corn based ethanol is more accurately starch based. There are other plants that contain higher concentrations of starch. Some may be inedible, and may be easier to process into ethanol. There are also other raw materials that can be treated differently than starch to produce ethanol (namely cellulose and sugar). Sugar has other uses so its likely that sugar may not turn out to be an excellent source of ethanol either. But the third kind of raw material can produce cellulosic ethanol. It is none other than cellulose. Human beings produce celloluse in many of our waste products, as does nature. It can be very easy to harvest cellulose without significantly detracting from food production. The process of ethanol distillation from cellulose is admittedly the most complicated of all processes, but considering the positive consequences (and side effects) as compared to the negative consequences (which are virtually non-existent), this kind of ethanol will probably be the most effective and best equipped to handle modern energy needs. This kind of ethanol may be able to beat oil, if not at least help save some. Thanks to corn based ethanol, we are at least one step in the right direction. The popularity of corn based ethanol has at least introduced the idea of ethanol fuel into the minds of many consumers. Hopefully, cellulosic ethanol will pick up where corn ethanol left off, and help to encourage e85 conversion as it becomes more affordable. The idea of corn based ethanol has assisted ethanol expansion, but it's not going to allow for a significant decrease in oil demand on any scale. Ethanol prices are not likely to be that appealing until other, more effective forms of ethanol are more commonly produced from ethanol stills.

Corn Ethanol Yields

And now for some numbers... As for corn ethanol yields, some of the most optimistic studies show that there is a 25% EROEI. That means that corn ethanol yields at best 25% more energy than it requires to produce. Switch grass can provide up to an estimated 540% EROEI from the cellulose it contains. The study that yielded these numbers was reported in Scientific American online magazine. The experiment was very meticulous, tracking all sources of energy requirement right down to the switchgrass seeds. It was discovered that on average 1 unit of petroleum energy invested into growing switchgrass produces 13 units of harvestable ethanol energy. The rest is an estimate; there are no bio refineries that can handle cellulose, and it is unclear if the study also factored in the energy required to harvest and process the ethanol (which is apparently still somewhat of a mystery). But worst case scenario we have 13 times the energy with switch grass for every drop of oil we invest into its growth. The 540% yield is an estimate after all is said and done only the ethanol remains. Even if we could achieve 50% effectiveness of energy retention as compared to the 540% estimate, that would still be 10 times more effective than corn ethanol yields. So if the effectiveness of the completed process corn ethanol yields even comes close to the effectiveness of yields for gasoline from oil, then we have discovered at least one source that can provide energy not only in a renewable fashion, but also in a fashion that is less damaging to the environment, as we already know that the consumption of ethanol as fuel is less damaging than the consumption of gasoline. The land used to grow the switchgrass could still be seen as a negative since the land could instead be used for food. However, switch grass is a resilient kind of grass that uses a particular form of carbon fixation which allows it to survive in conditions of drought and high temperature, where edible food may not fare so well. So even though the production of corn ethanol may suggest serious disadvantages of ethanol to some, further investigation reveals alternative strategies that have the promise of effectiveness and plausibility.