According to Biotour there are between 990 billion and 1.1 trillion barrels of crude petroleum oil left on the planet. This may sound like a lot, but if we continue at our current usage rate, we will run out by 2043. And if demand continues to increase (as it has in the past), we will run out by 2020. Something needs to be done and ethanol fuel is one alternative. We can actually grow the products used to make ethanol, making it a renewable resource (which petroleum is not). Ethanol can be made from sugar cane, corn, grain, wood waste, cheese whey, waste sucrose, potato waste, even municipal waste. This means that instead of going to landfills, trash could be turned into energy!
With our need for alternative fuels, why aren’t we making more ethanol-compatible cars and requiring ethanol fuel to be available at every gas station? It should be expanded in the automobile industry for many reasons: ethanol fuel would improve our environment; it has a positive energy balance, and it would help our economy.
Ethanol fuel is better for the environment than petroleum in a number of ways. First, it has a higher oxygen content so it burns cleaner than gasoline since more oxygen results in more complete fuel combustion, thus reducing harmful emissions. Without these emissions, there would be less smog and a probable decline in respiratory illness. Even the American Lung Association recognizes that ethanol-blended fuel reduced smog-forming emissions by 25% since 1990. Second, ethanol fuel reduces greenhouse gas emissions like carbon dioxide since products used to produce ethanol absorb it - there is no change in the net carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Third, ethanol is non-toxic and biodegradable so it would not create the damage of oil spills.
People say they want to improve our environment, so why aren’t we using ethanol fuel? Some believe that it takes more energy to produce ethanol than ethanol actually produces. They reason that growing corn and the distillation process take a lot of energy, some from fossil fuels, and since fossil fuels are not renewable, we want to use them as little as possible. However, ethanol fuel actually produces more energy than is used in its production.
The plants needed to produce ethanol use solar energy to grow, which replaces some of the fossil fuel energy use of petroleum. Even though it does take fossil fuels to produce ethanol, some are domestic (instead of imported). According to a 2004 U.S. Department of Agriculture study, ethanol produces 67% more energy than is necessary to grow, harvest and process it. Improvements in energy efficiency are also being made in the technology of producing ethanol and farm practices so that ethanol production can become even less energy intensive. There is no basis for saying that it takes more energy to produce ethanol than it provides.
Ethanol fuel would also improve our economy, especially the agricultural
sector, by increasing farm income. Currently, ethanol production is estimated to increase net farm income by $4.5 billion and employment by 200,000 jobs. We import 64% of the petroleum we use today. Since ethanol can be created domestically, we wouldn’t have to depend on foreign oil. Two-thirds of the world’s oil reserves are in the Middle East, a center of political unrest. The uncertainty of oil production has increased its price and our economy depends on these countries’ security. The U.S. spends about $50 billion for military protection of the Middle East oil supplies. With ethanol fuel, that money would be saved and we would be able to increase our ability to control our economic security and future.
Why aren’t we embracing the benefits of ethanol fuel? It should be available at every gas station. Companies should make every new car a flexible fuel vehicle. It improves our environment, has a positive energy balance, and improves our economy! Expanding ethanol fuel in the automobile industry would definitely benefit us. If we want our future generations to have a good life, we need to take action with ethanol now!
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.