What Is Bioethanol Made From?

If you’ve been reading up on climate change and environmentally friendly approaches to healing the planet, or at least preventing disaster, you have likely heard of bioethanol. So, you’re wondering what makes it so great, why aren’t we using more of it, and of course, what is bioethanol made from?

What Is Bioethanol?

Bioethanol is ethanol made from sugary plants for the purposes of fueling transportation vehicles.

In contrast to ethanol, which is typically made from starches like grains or potatoes and used to make alcoholic beverages or rubbing alcohol as a cleanser, bioethanol is used primarily as an alternative fuel source. It is a response to the climate crisis.

History of Bioethanol

Interestingly enough, bioethanol is not new. It has actually been around for about 150 years, since the first internal combustion engine was designed, in the late 1800s.

You see, bioethanol was originally thought of as a powerful fuel source. It can, after all, power engines as it burns.

The problem engineers discovered was that bioethanol does not offer a lot of power, so while it would be fine for a small vehicle, it could not power trains, ships, and trucks. So engineers turned instead to a non-renewable energy source —- oil.

Oil offers tremendous power and can get big rig trucks up over steep mountains and push ocean liners across the sea. It can power trains and planes, without a hiccup. It also burns less quickly than bioethanol.

When bioethanol burns alone in an engine, it burns hot and fast, so you need a lot of it, which can be cost-prohibitive and inefficient for long trips and heavy vehicles.

So, bioethanol was discarded as a fuel source back in the early days in favor of petroleum, or the derivative of oil.

It has only been in the last several decades as climate activists have pushed for cleaner energy sources that bioethanol has been reintroduced to the energy scene.

In response to the climate crises, petroleum manufacturers began cutting 10% bioethanol into their gasoline mixtures. The benefit of this shift is that the bioethanol oxygenates the petroleum, making it burn even more efficiently. It is, for now, the best of both worlds.

What Is Bioethanol Made From?

Traditionally, bioethanol has been made from corn, sugar cane, and sugar beets. The crop is harvested and pretreated to separate out the sugars, and then fermented to produce the bioethanol.

However, in recent years, scientists have discovered that bioethanol can also be produced from agriculture waste, forest debris, and even algae.

This is a revolution in the industry as previously a debate was raging over food competition. Many people feared that the corn, sugar, and sugar beets, among other crops, used for bioethanol would be competing against food sources, leaving farmers without viable crops for the food market.

Further, there’s the issue of land. It would take up a lot of space to grow enough crops to fuel all the vehicles in the world.

The solution seems to be these options for agriculture waste and other sources that are already in existence and can benefit from being utilized rather than contributing to landfills or dirty oceans.

Uses for Bioethanol

Today, in addition to eco-friendly fuel mixtures, bioethanol is also made to power heat sources for homes and businesses.

This clean energy can heat up small spaces with only a little fuel, eliminating the need for furnaces, heat pumps, natural gas, propane, and oil.

While of course there are problems with producing bioethanol and using it as a fuel, it remains the cleanest energy source we have in terms of burning fuel.

There will always be issues with electric vehicles or solar powered vehicles and batteries. As of now, our electrical grid cannot power all the vehicles on the road. It can barely power the electric vehicles we have in existence now.

And solar powered cars will need batteries to hold the charge for when the sun is not out, and those batteries can be a huge problem for the environment as it takes them hundreds of years to break down in landfills.

Thus, the internal combustion engine seems to be the best answer to transportation. And as long as that is true, it behooves us to continue to discover cleaner ways to produce and burn the fuel necessary for those engines.

It will be fascinating to see what scientists and engineers come up with in the decades to come.

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