Going green

Tracy Ferra

Our country’s rapid fuel consumption, coupled with our reliance on foreign oil, has prompted companies like GM to get involved in the promotion of E85 ethanol as an alternative fuel. E85 is a natural, renewable fuel made of an 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline mix. The E85 fuel promoted by GM is corn-based, but fuel can also be made of items like grass, fruit or sawdust.

E85 fuel is produced using a fermentation process that is similar to the production of alcohol. Starch is extracted from corn, mixed with water, heated, then treated with enzymes to separate the fermentable sugars.

Next is the fermentation phase, where yeast is added to form a mix known as “beer.” This mix is 90 percent water and 10 percent ethanol. The water is then boiled away, and 85-95 percent pure ethanol remains and is then mixed with gasoline for use in vehicles with ethanol engine capability.

So why do we need ethanol? According to Ethanol Across America, an information network, we need it for three reasons: energy, economics and the environment. Statistics show that the United States uses more energy than any other nation on earth, with oil providing 98 percent of that energy.

More than half of this oil comes from foreign sources, creating a massive trade deficit, not to mention a shaky dependence on those countries. The United States clearly needs to develop its own energy source. Ethanol also stimulates economic growth. Farm products will be in higher demand because the corn that makes ethanol fuel and towns where ethanol plants are built will experience a wealth of new jobs. The National

Ethanol Vehicle Coalition estimates that large-scale use of ethanol will increase farm income by $4.5 billion, as well as provide close to 200,000 new jobs. Taxes from the jobs and plants that create ethanol will be reinvested in the community, resulting in better schools and communities.

Finally, ethanol is an especially environmentally friendly alternative to gasoline. It reduces greenhouse gas emissions, helping to slow down global warming, and it cuts back on carbon monoxide emissions that cause smog. It’s also completely biodegradable, giving it an advantage over gasoline in the event of a spill.

Ethanol also has many other benefits. Due to its higher octane rating, ethanol improves vehicle performance by allowing for more horsepower and torque. And it’s relatively close to the price of gas, so doing something good for the environment doesn’t have to drain your wallet.

But ethanol does have some setbacks: it’s available only in certain gas stations, can be used only in certain cars (but if you have an ethanol compatible car, you can always switch between E85 and gasoline) and gets slightly less mileage than gasoline.

Clearly, ethanol is an appropriate option for reducing our dependence on foreign oil. Companies such as the aforementioned General Motors are beginning to explore the possibilities of ethanol. GM is participating in various government ethanol projects, and lends E85 compatible vehicles to states that are working on developing ethanol capabilities.

GM’s website also provides a wealth of information about ethanol, aimed at the younger generation with games, a colorful look and downloadable screensavers. The site also has links to various grassroots organizations, such as Ethanol Across America. Their website, which provides basic information, as well as listing ways you can get involved in promoting ethanol, can be found at www.ethanolacrossamerica.org.

The American Coalition for Ethanol is a membership site dedicated to advancing the use of ethanol. Their website, accessible at www.ethanol.org, contains in-depth technical reports on the fuel itself, as well as countless press releases, ethanol-related events, government data and general information.

The government is also getting involved in this cause. The 2005 Energy Security Act gives a 30 percent tax break to gas station owners who provide ethanol fuel. Ethanol is a critical avenue for the future of energy in the United States. To get involved or spread the word, visit those websites or GM’s at www.livegreengoyellow.com