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Saturday, February 28, 2015

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Ethanol Basics

What is Ethanol?

Ethanol (CH3CH2OH) - also referred to as ethyl alcohol, grain alcohol, EtOH - is a clear, colorless liquid that is made up of a group of chemical compounds whose molecules contain a hydroxyl group, -OH, bonded to a carbon atom. Fuel-grade ethanol is blended with a percentage of gasoline, thus forming a “finished” motor oil product.

There has been strong demand for ethanol as an oxygenated blended with gasoline since the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 mandated the sale of oxygenated fuels in areas with unhealthy levels of carbon monoxide. Approximately 2 billion gallons are added to gasoline to increase octane and improve the emissions quality of gasoline in the United States each year.

How Is Ethanol Made?

Ethanol can be produced from any biological feedstock (corn, barley, wheat) that contains substantial amounts of sugar or materials that can be converted into sugar (starch, cellulose). In particular, corn contains starch that can relatively easily be converted into sugar. Many larger ethanol producers use a wet-milling process to make corn, which also yields products such as high-fructose corn sweetener.

The ethanol production process starts by grinding up the feedstock so it is more easily and quickly processed in the following steps. Once ground up, the sugar is either dissolved out of the material or the starch or cellulose is converted into sugar. The sugar is then fed to microbes that use it for food, producing ethanol and carbon dioxide in the process. A final step purifies the ethanol to the desired concentration.

In 2004, 1.26 billion corn bushels (approx. 12% of the nation’s total crop) was used for ethanol production. In 2005, 1.6 billion bushels (approx. 14% of the nation’s total crop) was used, and as America’s ethanol production increases, some bushels from the export category, according to the American Coalition for Ethanol, will be used for the production of ethanol. The corn used to produce ethanol would otherwise go to feed livestock or be used for export markets.