Question: What are the disadvantages of ethanol fuel?
There are a couple disadvantages of ethanol as a fuel source. First of all, when compared to gasoline, it is somewhat less efficient meaning the same amount of gasoline can do more then ethanol. This is mostly a result of all the research that has gone into the development of efficient gasoline engines, and not ethanol engines. More research in efficient ethanol combustion is important not only for increasing the efficiency of burning ethanol but also in eliminating some unnecessary byproducts. Some ethanol is released when ethanol is used in an engine, which is relatively harmless to the environment, but in addition some partially oxidized ethanol is released in the form of acetylaldehyde which appears to be a contributing factor in ozone formation. Additionally, the ethanol production byproduct, called swill, is toxic in our waters when not properly contained on land.
The final main concern with ethanol production comes from which plants we use to make it. Currently, the only plants used in ethanol production are also food sources, like corn or wheat. This becomes an issue because of the interplay of food prices with energy/fuel prices that can create cross market competition which drives food prices up. Also, the agricultural plants used are water intensive so it is a huge drain on our fresh water supply to grow. Researchers are developing ethanol production methods for other plant matter that can grow in much less water intensive settings. With increasing spending going into ethanol’s market, and the subsequent increase in research, many of these disadvantages can be eliminated.
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