New Goodland Energy Center

Caruso, Kansas


What is Ethanol?

Ethanol is a high octane, liquid, domestic and renewable fuel, produced by the fermentation of plant sugars. In the United States, ethanol is typically produced from corn and other grain products, although in the future it may be economically produced from other biomass resources such as agricultural and forestry wastes or specially grown energy crops.

  • E85 has an octane of approximately 105.
  • E85 sells for approximately the same price as unleaded gasoline.
  • Ethanol reduces the incidence of greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Ethanol is domestically produced and promotes energy independence.
  • Ethanol production increases the value of feed grains grown by farmers.
  • Ethanol is biodegradable and does not contaminate water.
  • Ethanol can be produced from a number of different feedstocks including paper and agricultural waste.

What is the range of a flexible fuel vehicle?

Ethanol has less energy content than gasoline. However, E85 also has a much higher octane (ranging from 100 to 105) than gasoline. FFVs are not optimized to E85, so they experience a 10-15% drop in fuel economy. This will vary based on the way one drives, the air pressure in the tires, and additional driving conditions.

For comparison purposes, aggressive driving habits can result in a 20% loss and low tire pressure can reduce mileage by 6%. Research indicates Ford FFVs experience a 5% horsepower gain on E85. The range of any particular vehicle is dependent on the size of the fuel tank and driving habits. Current Ford Taurus FFVs have an 18-gallon fuel tank and will normally travel 350 miles between refuelings.

How is ethanol generally produced using agricultural and/or municipal waste? What is meant by agricultural and municipal waste? Are emissions released during the production of this fuel?

Ethanol is produced from a fermentation/distillation method, similar to that used to produce beverage alcohol. All agricultural crops and residues contain six-carbon sugars or compounds of these sugars. To produce ethanol from grain, the starch portion of the grain is exposed and mixed with water to form a mash. The mash is heated and enzymes are added to separate the fermentable sugars.

The next phase, fermentation, involves the addition of yeast to convert the sugars to ethanol and carbon dioxide. Fermentation produces a mixture called "beer," which contains about 10 percent ethanol and 90 percent water. The "beer" is then boiled in a distillation column to separate the water, resulting in fuel-grade ethanol that is 85 to 95 percent pure. Ethanol production from grain utilizes only the starch.

A variety of highly valued feed co-products, including gluten meal, gluten feed and dried distillers grains, are produced from the remaining protein, minerals, vitamins and fiber and are sold as high-value feed for livestock. In addition to grain, ethanol is also produced today from wood waste, cheese whey, waste sucrose, potato waste, brewery waste, and food and beverage wastes.

The next generation of ethanol production facilities will include production from cellulose and biomass feedstocks. Earlier this year, there was a groundbreaking for a new ethanol production plant in Jennings, Louisiana which, when completed, will produce ethanol from rice hulls and bagasse. Three other plants are currently planned in California that will produce ethanol from rice straw.

One company has plans for production facilities in New York and Alabama to produce ethanol from the biomass portion of municipal solid waste. The plants would reduce capacity problems at wastewater treatment plants and reduce the need for landfills. Many ethanol producers capture carbon dioxide emissions for processing and use in beverages.

How much ethanol does the U.S. have?

Today, U.S. ethanol producers have the capacity to produce nearly 2 billion gallons each year. Ethanol is a renewable resource that is primarily made from corn, other grains and waste products.

Will we deplete human and animal food supplies by using corn and other grains for fuel production?

No, actually the production of ethanol from corn uses only the starch of the corn kernel, all of the valuable protein, minerals and nutrients remain. One bushel of corn produces about 2.7 gallons of ethanol AND 11.4 pounds of gluten feed (20% protein) AND 3 pounds of gluten meal (60% protein) AND 1.6 pounds of corn oil.

Does it take more energy to produce a gallon of ethanol than the energy we get out of it?

No. This has been a common misconception of the ethanol industry, that it takes more energy to make ethanol than is available to the final consumer. Remember, ethanol is produced from plant matter, today dominated by corn, wheat, potatoes, sorgum, etc. Plants grow through the use of energy provided by the sun and are a renewable resources. In the future, ethanol will be produced from waste products or "energy crops." In fact, a partner of the NEVC, BC International (BCI), is currently constructing an ethanol production plant in Louisiana that will use sugar cane waste to produce ethanol. Additionally, BCI is considering the establishment of ethanol production facilities in California that would use the waste hulls from rice growers and wood waste from the forrest industry to produce ethanol. Energy crops such as perennial switch grasses, timothy, and other high-output/low-input crops will be used in the future.

Current research prepared by Argonne National Laboratory (a U.S. Department of Energy Laboratory), indicates a 38% gain in the overall energy input/output equation for the corn-to-ethanol process. That is, if 100 BTUs of energy is used to plant corn, harvest the crop, transport it, etc., 138 BTUs of energy is available in the fuel ethanol. Corn yields and processing technologies have improved significantly over the past 20 years and they continue to do so, making ethanol production less and less energy intensive.

Is E85 more toxic or dangerous than gasoline?

No. 100% ethanol can be and is ingested by human beings. The fuel ethanol must be "denatured" with gasoline or a bitter agent to prevent ingestion. Also, ethanol does not contain the harmful carcinogens and toxins found in gasoline.

If E85 is spilled on the ground, can it contaminate ground water?

Ethanol is water soluble, non-toxic and biodegradable. E85 contains roughly 80% less of the potential contaminants found in gasoline.

What is the difference in putting out an ethanol fire versus putting out a gasoline fire?

The National Fire Protection Association is a consortium of fire experts from across a wide range of areas of expertise. NFPA publishes brochures and documents the outline how to fight fires, build fire-resistant buildings, etc.

NFPA Code 30 and 30A establish firefighting techniques for unleaded gasoline. NFPA 30 and 30A also recommend that the same form of fire fighting chemicals and techniques be used on E85 as is used to fight fires fueled with unleaded gasoline. The NFPA does not require different fire fighting for ethanol in comparison to gasoline.

What happens if I accidentally fuel my gasoline-only powered vehicle with E85?

Although your vehicle was not manufactured to run on E85, no problems should occur if you mistakenly fuel once with the alternative fuel. The largest difference between an E85 powered vehicle and a gasoline powered vehicle is that their computer modules are meant to read different amounts of oxygen within the fuel. E85 contains a higher amount of oxygen than gasoline and E85 compatible vehicles are made to read that higher amount. When a higher amount of oxygen is read by a gasoline powered vehicle, your "check engine light" may appear. A number of other parts on the FFV's fuel delivery system are modified to be ethanol-compatible. The fuel tank, fuel lines, fuel injectors, computer system and anti-siphon device have been modified slightly. Alcohol fuels can be more corrosive than gasoline. Therefore; fuel system parts have been upgraded to be ethanol-compatible.

Ultimately it is a drivers choice, but we do need to be firm in recommending that only FFVs use E85 and to state that we are not responsible for damages.

How many E85 compatible vehicles are on American roads today?

To date, there are approximately 6 million E85 compatible vehicles on American roads.