What Can Bioethanol Be Used For?

It’s a common question, “What can bioethanol be used for?” In a world increasingly concerned with becoming more environmentally friendly, this question is one we have to ask. After all, are we only producing bioethanol for transportation? Or can it have other purposes? The more uses we can get from it, the more sense it makes to increase production. So, let’s get some answers.

What Is Bioethanol?

Bioethanol is an environmentally friendly fuel that can help to power transportation vehicles. As far back as the late 1800s, engineers have been seeking a way to make an efficient, high-powered engine that will run on a fuel that makes sense.

We began with physical, manual labor, or power from natural sources.

Once, humans and animals pulled plows in large fields. Horses and oxen pulled carriages for transportation. Then, humans learned to harness the power of water and wind, creating large wind turbines and water wheels to power factories and production.

Then, of course, electricity was discovered, and we were able to use that power source to operate certain functions, like the light bulb.

Around the same time engineers discovered the power of steam from the burning of coal. Steam powered engines enabled ocean liners and trains to cross great distances, taking people and resources where they needed to be.

Finally, the internal combustion engine was designed in the late 1800s, which ran on a product of natural oil —- today we call it gasoline or petroleum.

Interestingly, bioethanol is not new. While gasoline is a product of oil, bioethanol is the product of fermented sugars from plants. Vehicles with internal combustion engines could run on bioethanol even then, but the problem was that these modes of transportation ran faster and had more power when they ran on gasoline.

In cases of long-haul trucks, trains, and ocean liners, gasoline would have to be the answer.

So, bioethanol was left by the wayside.

How Is Bioethanol Different from Ethanol?

One question often asked around this subject is what the difference is between bioethanol and ethanol. They’re both made from sugars, after all.

The primary difference is that ethanol is the product of starches like grains and potatoes, which are broken down to reveal their sugars. Bioethanol, in contrast, it typically made from already sugary, or cellulose-rich plants like sugar cane, sugar beets, and corn.

At the same time, there are ethanols that are made from sugar cane, like rum or seltzer water.

So, the truth is that the real difference lies in their uses.

Ethanol is used primarily for alcoholic beverages and rubbing alcohol while bioethanol is used as an alternative fuel source.

Why Is Bioethanol Made?

But, if we gave up on bioethanol 150 years ago, why are we still making it?

Thanks to the environmental movements of the last several decades, bioethanol has come back into the limelight. Today, manufacturers of large sugar crops can produce bioethanol and provide it to be cut into gasoline for a mixture that creates a more environmentally friendly fuel.

While we still don’t run vehicles, for the most part, on 100% bioethanol, even the 10% we do add to the fuel makes a ton of difference in the carbon emissions released when the fuel burns.

You see, when gasoline made from oil burns, it burns “dirty.” Toxins are released into the air and we have no way to absorb them back into the earth. Instead, they cause wear and tear to our ozone layer, which protects humans and the rest of life on earth from the harsh heat and UV rays that come from the sun.

By adding bioethanol to our petroleum, we cut down on that dirty burn and turn toward a cleaner energy burn.

When bioethanol burns, it releases carbon dioxide into the air that is then absorbed by the same plants that provide the sugar for bioethanol. So a cycle is completed: corn is planted, broken down to release its sugars, fermented with yeast, and then burned as fuel. That fuel is then absorbed by the next corn crop, among other crops, on earth.

What Can Bioethanol Be Used for?

Today, bioethanol is primarily used as an alternative, clean fuel source for transportation vehicles. Again, we can only mix in up to 15% before we start losing efficiency in engines. After that, the engine burns the fuel so fast that the drive would have to refill the tank more often, which means more crops need to be grown. This problem is both cost prohibitive and inefficient.

Another use for bioethanol in modern days is to heat houses, apartments, and businesses. Bioethanol can provide fuel for heating systems that generate a lot of heat in a small space, cutting down on the need for natural gas, propane, or oil.

In the end, it will be interesting to see how far the bioethanol industry can take this eco-friendly fuel source and what types of innovations may be made that can create more efficiency and cut down on costs, so we can fuel our vehicles, and maybe much more, without the need of non-renewable resources like coal and oil.

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