Ethanol – the coming fuel?

Written by Frank Hare

The USA Government is moving, albeit slowly, towards a 5 billion US gallon ethanol mandate by 2012. The US has a long history of ethanol in motor spirit and is coming to terms with the likelihood of an 85% ethanol and 15% petrol mixture – E85 for short. It is a high octane fuel, but with less overall energy than petrol alone. With over 3 million vehicles already sold that can handle E85, this is a very purposeful move indeed. A further development is the E95% ie 95% ethanol mix for the diesel market.

What is the source of ethanol?

It is produced by the fermentation of corn and other grain products and could in the future be extracted from agricultural wastes. With farmers in the EU being subsidised to “set aside ” land that once yielded crops and are now redundant due to over production, this could be very good news indeed.

What are its main characteristics?

Ethanol cannot efficiently be transported by pipeline to depots for redistribution ,as it readily picks up water. The water is suspended as opposed to water in fuel which sinks. Development of sensitive filters that are compatible with fuel mix to deal with this issue are on-going. Ethanol also acts as a cleaning agent, breaking up loose sediments that have built up in tanks. Filters may clog initially in tanks converted for this fuel mix, but will eventually clear as the sediment works its way out.

What are the likely problems for equipment handling ethanol?

Equipment manufacturers in the US have had many years experience in adapting their products to handle ethanol. In the main tanks, pumps, nozzles, hoses, and pipes have been adapted to cope with a higher alcohol levels.

Cleaner fuel is what governments are aiming for and ethanol mixers are on the agenda.

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