The Culture Artist

Green transportation: flexible-fuel vehicles          Send a link to a friend

By Chuck Hall

[April 17, 2007]  Flexible-fuel vehicles are designed to run on more than one type of fuel -- usually either gasoline or E85 ethanol or both. The advantage of flex-fuel vehicles is that they come in about the same sizes and have about the same performance as their pure gasoline-powered counterparts. If you can't find E85 ethanol while you're traveling, you can also burn regular gasoline in flex-fuel vehicles.

Ethanol is a type of alcohol. In the United States it is usually made from corn or other grains. In many South American countries, most notably Brazil, it is made from sugar cane. The designation "E85" refers to the amount of ethanol content in the fuel. The higher the "E" number, the higher the percentage of ethanol content. For example, E85 ethanol contains 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline. You can learn more about ethanol from the American Coalition for Ethanol at www.ethanol.org.

Ethanol as a fuel is a mixed blessing. While it is sustainable in that it comes from plants that can be grown again every year, the process of converting it to fuel takes more energy than you get out of it. Of course, this is ultimately true of any fuel, including gasoline. The difference in fossil fuels is that the energy used to make crude oil was expended over many years. Other methods of producing ethanol and other types of fuel alcohol are currently under development. Many of these new methods have the potential of reducing the energy input required to produce fuel, so ethanol may become more economical in the future. There are also other types of alcohol (methanol, for example) that may be more economical in the long run.

Sugar cane is much easier than corn to convert to ethanol. This means that the price for ethanol from sugar cane is considerably lower than that of ethanol from corn. Unfortunately there aren't many suitable places in the United States to grow sugar cane right now. Perhaps one of the very few benefits of global warming is that more of the U.S. may have the proper climate for the growth of sugar cane in the future.

[to top of second column]

The only way that flexible-fuel vehicles would be truly sustainable would be if they could burn E100 ethanol with no gasoline whatsoever. Some flex-fuel vehicles can also run on E100 ethanol, but in general it would void the car's warranty to deviate from the manufacturer's recommendation of using E85.

Another thing to consider in using ethanol as an alternative fuel is the amount of land necessary to grow enough corn to meet our fuel needs at present consumption rates. The Earth Policy Institute estimates that in order for the United States to meet its current energy needs with ethanol alone, we'd need 250 million acres of land dedicated to growing corn for ethanol production. This is an area roughly the size of Texas, Arizona, Oklahoma and Louisiana combined! Of course, we could reduce this amount considerably by practicing fuel conservation or by producing more efficient vehicles, but even if we didn't reduce our consumption demands, consider what a boon to our farmers this would be!

An advantage to flexible-fuel vehicles is that they are available right now. In fact, over 70 percent of the cars sold in Brazil last year were flex-fuel, and the trend seems to be catching on in the United States as well. If you are interested in purchasing a flexible-fuel vehicle or would like more information, visit the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition's online site, www.e85fuel.com, which also has information on where you can purchase E85 ethanol near you.

[Text from file received from Chuck Hall]

Chuck Hall is a sustainability consultant and author. You may contact him by e-mail at chuck@cultureartist.org or visit the Culture Artist site at www.cultureartist.org.

< Recent features

Back to top


News | Sports | Business | Rural Review | Teaching & Learning | Home and Family | Tourism | Obituaries

Community | Perspectives | Law & Courts | Leisure Time | Spiritual Life | Health & Fitness | Teen Scene
Calendar | Letters to the Editor