Notes on Ethanol as a Fuel

Notes on ethanol as a green fuel

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  • Created by: R_Hall
  • Created on: 30-05-13 13:06
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Ethanol (molecular formula CH2 CH3OH) is a volatile, colourless, flammable liquid, it is
the alcohol most commonly found in alcoholic drinks
It burns with a blue flame and is visible in normal light
Road transport suitability
Ethanol is always transported by road; this is potentially dangerous as it increases the
risks of spillages, which can damage the environment. It's extreme flammability can
cause fires to start if a spill occurs.
If a standard tanker carrying 9,000 gallons of ethanol spills and ignites on the road, it
can take several hours for emergency services to contain and extinguish the fire, and
prevent it from reigniting
Availability and cost
Ethanol is currently being used as a fuel and a fuel additive in USA and Brazil (as they
are big producers of sugar cane).
The majority of ethanol for fuel made from fermentation of sugar, from biomass or
from ethane (fossil fuel obtained from cracking naptha)
Therefore, mass production of ethanol requires vast oil reserves, or land for growing
and processing sugar cane
Ethanol production is more expensive than the production of other fuels from
Energy density
Ethanol (21.1 MJ per litre) has a lower energy density than petrol (32.6 MJ per litre),
making it a less effective fuel
Use in existing engines
Most cars can run when ethanol is added to petrol, without damage to the engine.
However, pure ethanol can be used in petrol engines, but the efficiency is reduced. It
cannot be used in diesel engines
Ease of storage and distribution
Ethanol can be stored in plastic and stainless steel containers
It must be distributed by road rather than by pipeline, as because it is a soluble
substance, it would mix with any water that leaks into the pipe
Safety and effect on the environment
Using ethanol as a fuel instead of petrol/diesel reduces CO2 emissions, the CO2
produced when the fuel is burnt is balanced by the absorption of CO2 when sugar
cane is grown. Using ethanol contributes less to the greenhouse effect than petrol
or diesel
However, it produces 3x the amount of ozone (a pollutant and a greenhouse
gas)than petrol/diesel
Ethanol is not very polluting to water sources, but there is a high risk of ignition.
Overall, it is a relatively safe fuel


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