Compare and Contrast Essay: Ethanol vs Gasoline

The world is facing many problems and one of these is the fast depleting natural resources. These natural resources include fuel sources like coal, and most importantly oil. Almost the whole world is heavily dependent upon oil. The most important use of oil is for industries and individuals who use gasoline for running their factories and vehicles. Gasoline has become a very large part of our societies and our economies and it has become a need of people all over the world. The biggest problem with gasoline is that it is becoming more and more expensive to find more oil and to convert it into gasoline. The economic laws of supply and demand ensue and the price of gasoline keeps getting higher and higher. The burning up of gasoline for fuel also creates a lot of pollution that is bad for the environment. All these reasons have led people to come up with alternate sources of fuel and one such source is ethanol. This paper shall compare and contrast these two sources of fuel and list the advantages and disadvantages of both.

Ethanol is an alcohol and it has recently been identified as a cheaper and a more environmental friendly source of fuel and energy than gasoline. Ethanol is known as ethyl alcohol or grain alcohol, and there has been a lot of talk about this chemical in various media. Many people have proclaimed it to be the fuel of the future, one that is destined to replace gasoline. Many investors have already started giving a lot of thought in investing in future projects that involve ethanol production (Cocheo 48). There are many benefits of using ethanol as fuel. For much of American, it is not dependent on foreign sources, as ethanol can be synthesized from farm produces such as corn and other starchy crops. Ethanol is also a renewable form of energy, which is a big plus for all the 'green' members of our society. Also, many economists feel that ethanol would benefit corn farmers in the United States by funneling energy spending into agriculture. It is more environmental friendly as it produces less carbon dioxide and is less toxic than petroleum-based fuels. And last, but definitely not the least, ethanol is an economical alternative to petroleum fuels (Hiserodt 19).

If these were all true, and this were the end of the list, there would be no question that we should concentrate maximum efforts on ethanol production. There may, however, be other facts about ethanol's viability as a fuel that are not being considered before the nation plunges headlong into an alternative-fuels strategy that would have important economic consequences in the near future. And when these are considered, ethanol may no longer appear to be the fuel of the future that many people expect it to become. It is a fact that it always takes energy to produce energy. The mining and transport of coal are very energy intensive as are the delivery and refining of oil. Even the capture of solar and wind energy requires considerable amounts of silicon and steel to capture their "free" benefits. On the other hand, mining uranium, for use in nuclear power plants, requires relatively little energy since so little ore is needed, but there is a major energy outlay in the enrichment of the content from 0.7 percent to about 3 percent so that the uranium can be used in U.S. power reactors. Likewise, energy inputs are required in order to produce a useful energy-bearing fuel in the form of ethanol. But how much energy is required to produce a unit of ethanol energy? This is the question that will ultimately decide the future of ethanol production. If the energy input in order to produce ethanol is high relative to the energy content of the fuel produced, then ethanol would be inefficient as a fuel when compared to traditional petroleum-based fuels. If that proves to he the case, then it would be unwise to trade petroleum fuels for ethanol, thereby using a huge percentage of our farmland for little or no net energy gain (Hiserodt 19).

Debate on this point has raged for more than a decade, and depends in part on the crop from which the ethanol is to be produced. In Brazil, for instance, most ethanol is made from sugar cane, while in the United States, most is made from corn, an inferior energy crop in comparison. Nevertheless, corn producers, ethanol processors, and blenders of gasoline/ethanol assert that ethanol products boast a positive energy ration of from 1.25 to 1.35--in other words, from 25 percent to 35 percent more energy than is used in the cumulative production process. Those opposed to ethanol, on the other hand, see its production as a wasteful use of fossil-energy resources. The energy content of fuels is measured in British Thermal Units (BTUs), with one BTU being defined as the amount of heat energy required to raise the temperature of one pound of water, one degree Fahrenheit. Ten pounds of coal and dried oak have about 120,000 and 80,000 BTUs respectively. Of common liquid fuels for transportation, diesel leads the pack at more than 130,000 BTUs, gasoline is next at around 115,000 BTUs, with ethanol bringing up the rear at 76,000 BTUs (Hiserodt 19).

United States can have a gasoline substitute at an attractive price with little infrastructure investment and no change to our current fleet of cars and light trucks. By 2016, the United States could produce and import roughly 30 billion gallons of ethanol from corn, sugar cane, and grasses and trees, lowering gasoline use dramatically. Furthermore, the United States could encourage the European Union, Japan, and other rich nations to raise their ethanol production at home and in developing nations by a similar amount. Such increased production, together with improvements in vehicle fuel economy, would result in a notable decrease in petroleum demand, with positive implications for oil prices and Middle Eastern policy. This move would have the added benefit of supporting sustainable Third World development and reducing problems of global warming, because burning ethanol can result in no net carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere (Lave and Griffin 40).

Although no one can predict the future with confidence, increasing worldwide petroleum demand will push prices higher over the next few decades. There is little public appetite for high gasoline taxes to decrease consumption or for forcing greater fuel economy on the U.S. light-duty fleet, but there is general recognition that we cannot continue to stick our heads in the sand. Sensible policy requires that the United States both reduce the amount of energy used per vehicle-mile and substitute some other fuel or fuels for gasoline. A better alternative is for the nation to increase its use of ethanol as a fuel. Unfortunately, Congress traditionally has viewed ethanol as a subsidy to corn growers rather than as a serious way to lower oil dependence. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 requires an increasing volume of renewable transportation fuel to be used each year, starting in 2006 and ultimately rising to 7.5 billion gallons of ethanol in 2012. Although this increase would raise the incomes of the corn producers and millers, it would not even keep up with the increases in the nation's gasoline demand and so would not reduce crude oil imports. Gasoline use grows at a little more than 1% per year, about 1.4 billion gallons per year. By 2012, the United States would need to be using 13 billion gallons of ethanol merely to keep gasoline use constant. To reduce oil imports, the nation must achieve major increases in fuel economy and ethanol use (Lave and Griffin 40; Potera 18).

If the ethanol were available, the nation could substitute perhaps 80 billion gallons of ethanol for gasoline by 2016 by increasing the 4 million "flexible-fueled" vehicles that can use a mixture containing anywhere from 0 to 85% ethanol. If all new vehicles were flexible-fueled (for a cost of less than $200 per vehicle), the market for ethanol would grow by 8 billion gallons per year. The time is right for the United States to adopt policies aimed at expanding ethanol production and use. U.S. corn growers claim that they could possibly produce 15 billion gallons in a decade. Brazil seems ready and able to export another 15 billion gallons at $1 per gallon. At the same time, we should pursue technologies to produce ethanol from biomass at ever-lower costs. Some proponents claim that cellulosic ethanol could ultimately replace all gasoline use in the United States (Lave and Griffin 40).

Work Cited

Cocheo, Steve, “Bankers Give Ear-And Cash-To Ethanol Demand; with a Fuel-Hungry Nation Moving towards "Miles per Bushel, " Banks Step Up Lending to the Ethanol Industry. but Hot Markets Require Cool Lending Heads,” ABA Banking Journal, 98, (11): 2006

Hiserodt, Ed, “Going Bananas over Ethanol,” The New American, 23, (5): March 5, 2007.

Lave, Lester B. and W. Michael Griffin, “Import Ethanol, Not Oil,” Issues in Science and Technology, 22, (3): Spring 2006

Potera, Carol, “The Economics of Ethanol,” Environmental Health Perspectives, 110, (1): 2002