Corn is one of the most-used agricultural materials in the United States for creating ethanol (ethyl alcohol). Ethanol can also be made from other various agricultural products, including molasses (a syrup). The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is currently working to determine the possibilities of a molasses-based ethanol, and Louisiana State University recently produced a report suggesting that ethanol could be more economically produced using agricultural products other than corn, such as molasses.

The 2007 Chrysler Sebring can operate on ethanol.

The 2007 Chrysler Sebring can operate on ethanol. Credit: DaimlerChrysler

Among the various agricultural products that can be used to make ethanol (sugar, sugar beets, etc.) is the sugarcane plant, with Brazil being the leading proponent of this type of ethanol. Brazil uses about 14 billion liters of ethanol per year to fuel approximately 40 percent of its large fleet of flexible fuel cars. It also uses ethanol in nearly all other gasoline supplies at a mix ratio of at least 25 percent ethanol to 75 percent gasoline. Other countries such as Pakistan, India, China, Thailand, Japan, Australia, and Canada are incorporating ethanol-based fuels into their transportation systems.

In the United States, the most common blend of ethanol is 85 percent ethanol to 15 percent gasoline, otherwise known as E85. Carmakers are taking note of the possibilities of bifuel cars, which can run on either standard gasoline or ethanol. Many car companies are now building flex fuel cars that require, when purchased, no modifications or special control switches to use alternative fuels.

Louisiana and Hawaii are states leading in the production of sugarcane, and the upper Midwest produces the largest proportion of sugar beets. Most ethanol supplies are transported within the country by railroad and barge. As the USDA/Louisiana State University report mentions, the price of petroleum plays a major role in the economic viability of ethanol. This means that if the price of gasoline falls far below current levels (which is unlikely), the creation of ethanol-based alternative fuels becomes less likely to occur. However, with the current outlook for petroleum prices, ethanol may be a solution to many nations’ fuel needs, as there is ethanol, ethanol, everywhere!

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