Ethanol Production

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Environmental Impact of Ethanol Production

Table of Contents


Thesis Statement:2


Energy balance and Ethanol production:2

Environmental Impact of Ethanol Production:4

Air Pollution:4

Water Pollution:4

Effects of ethanol on agriculture:4






Figure 1: A basic process-flow figure for ethanol production from cane sugar, cellulosic biomass, and corn.7

Environmental Impact of Ethanol Production


Ethanol is a chemical compound derived from the fermentation of sugars that can be used as fuel, alone or mixed in varying amounts with gasoline, and their use has spread primarily to replace the use of derivatives of petroleum. The resulting fuel mixture of ethanol and gasoline is called gasohol or gasohol. Two common blends are E10 and E85, with ethanol content of 10% and 85%, respectively (Wyman, 1996). Ethanol is used as fuel and is part of the gasoline occasionally used in the United States since 1920. Consumption and ethanol production has grown considerably in last 20 years. Ethanol is even progressively more being utilized as an additive to gasoline oxygenate standard, replacing Methyl Tert-Butyl Ether (MTBE). The latter is responsible for a substantial contamination of soil and groundwater. It can also be used as fuel in fuel cells. Ethanol can be produced in two ways. Most of the world production is obtained from the processing of biological materials, including certain plants with sugars. The ethanol so produced is referred to as bio-ethanol. Moreover, it is also produced by chemical modification of the ethylene, by hydration. In 2006, the total world production of ethanol in all grades was 51.06 billion liters (13.49 billion gallons international) (Shapouri, Gallagher & Graboski, 2002). The two major world producers are the United States and Brazil, which together produce 70% of ethanol, followed by China, India and France (Goldemberg, Monaco & Macedo, 1993). Market incentives have led to the development of growing industries in states like Thailand, Philippines, Guatemala, Colombia and Dominican Republic. In Europe, both Germany and Spain have significantly increased their production of ethanol.

Thesis Statement:

Ethanol being a substitute to the conventional fuels and polluting the environment is a similar way (as that of fossil fuels) is also a fuel that consumes much energy in its production than it can produce.


The current push toward ethanol derived directly from the counterculture, inflicted on the U.S. thirty years ago, with the encouragement of post-industrial societies and the abandonment of technology and science. There are numerous criticisms on the ethanol production within the U.S. This is mainly because almost all U.S. ethanol is produced from corn, which is less efficient than ethanol produced from sugar cane. Another criticism of the use of ethanol in the U.S. is its availability. Just 600 petrol stations out of a total of 200,000, have E85 pumps.

Energy balance and Ethanol production:

For ethanol to significantly contribute to the needs of transportation fuel would need to have an energy balance or net energy return rate positive. In order to evaluate the net energy of ethanol one needs to consider the energy amount contained in the ultimate product (i.e. ethanol), weighted against the energy amount consumed for making ethanol (for instance, diesel consumed by ...
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