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Ethanol: the Alternative Fuel

Most motorists will find that Ethanol, an alternative fuel derived from corn, is already blended with gasoline at fuel pumps around the country, and its production is being increased. When President Bush signed the new energy laws in February the legislation warranted a renewable-fuels standard that will require the use of 7.5 billion gal. of ethanol and biodiesel annually by 2012—90 percent more than today’s consumption—and extended tax benefits favoring alternative fuels.

Ethanol is an excellent, clean-burning fuel that has a higher octane rating (over 100) than gasoline and burns cooler than gasoline. Pure alcohol, however isn’t volatile enough to start an engine on cold days—so small quantities of ethanol are added to around 30 percent of the gasoline sold in the States to meet EPA standards for oxygenated fuels in cities with the worst ozone air pollution.

The downside of ethanol is that it is a very corrosive solvent—so engine materials should be made of corrosion resistant ( and expensive) stainless steel or plastic—from fuel injection components to the tanks, pumps and hoses that dispense the fuel.

Growing corn is also a resource intensive process that requires pesticides, fertilizer, heavy equipment and transport. When considering the cost-effectiveness of ethanol, the total production costs need to be taken into account.

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