Background information on Ethanol
Ethanol is a clear, colorless alcohol fuel made from the sugars found in grains, such as
corn, sorghum, and wheat, as well as potato skins, rice, and yard clippings. Ethanol is a
renewable fuel because it is made from plants. There are several ways to make ethanol from
biomass. The most commonly used processes today use yeast to ferment the sugars and starch in
corn. Corn is the main ingredient for ethanol in the United States due to its abundance and low
price. Most ethanol is produced in the corn-growing states in the Midwest. The starch in the corn
is fermented into sugar, which is then fermented into alcohol. Other crops such as, barley, wheat,
rice, sorghum, sunflower, potatoes, sugar cane and sugar beets can also be used to produce
Sugar cane and sugar beets are the most common ingredients for ethanol in other parts of
the world. Since alcohol is created by fermenting sugar, sugar crops are the easiest ingredients to
convert into alcohol. Brazil, the country with the world's largest ethanol production, makes most
of its ethanol this way. Today, many cars in Brazil operate on ethanol made from sugar cane.
A new experimental process, which breaks down cellulose in woody fibers, is called
"cellulosic ethanol". With this process we can make ethanol from trees, grasses, and crop wastes.
Trees and grasses need less energy than grains, which must be replanted every year. Scientists
have developed fast-growing trees that grow to size in ten years. Many grasses can produce two
harvests a year for many years. Someday, you may find yourself driving by huge farms that are
not producing food or animal feed, but feedstock for ethanol. Feedstock is the raw material used
to make a product.
Ethanol is not a new fuel. In the 1850s, ethanol was a major lighting fuel. During the
Civil War, a liquor tax was placed on ethanol to raise money for the war. The tax increased the
price of ethanol so much that it could no longer compete with other fuels such as kerosene in
lighting devices. Ethanol production declined sharply because of this tax and production levels
did not begin to recover until the tax was repealed in 1906.
In 1908, Henry Ford designed his Model T to run on a mixture of gasoline and alcohol,
calling it the fuel of the future. In 1919, when Prohibition began, ethanol was banned because it
was considered as a type of liquor. It could only be sold when it was mixed with petroleum. With
the end of Prohibition in 1933, ethanol was used as a fuel again. Ethanol use increased