The concept of ethanol as a fuel began as early as the first Model T car designed by Henry Ford. American usage of ethanol-blended gasoline began in the late 1970s. Environmentally, the use of ethanol blends has assisted in reducing carbon monoxide emissions as mandated by the U.S. Clean Air Act of 1990. In addition, as corn prices declined during the 1980s, ethanol production, using corn as a feedstock, came to be seen as a way of expanding the domestic market for grain, helping to stabilize farmers' incomes.
In Canada, air quality issues have taken on a higher profile on the public
agenda. For agriculture, the savings in government spending on farm support programs in Canada have not been as
evident as in the U.S. Consequently, until recently, fuel ethanol has not received the level of public attention
and private investment as it has in the U.S.
What is fuel ethanol?
Fuel ethanol (or 'Gasohol') is a high octane, water-free alcohol produced from the fermentation of sugar or converted starch. It is traditionally used as a blending ingredient at 5% to 10% concentrations (termed E5 or E10, respectively) in gasoline or as a raw material to produce high octane fuel ether additives. Ethanol is made primarily from grains or other renewable agricultural and agroforestry feedstocks.
What are the advantages to using ethanol-blended fuels?
How does the use of ethanol-blended fuel benefit the environment?
Net Reduction in Ground Level Ozone-Forming Emissions
Ground-level ozone causes human respiratory problems and damages many plants, but does nothing to increase ozone concentration in the stratosphere that protects the earth from the sun's ultraviolet radiation.
In Canada, where the volatility of ethanol blends must match normal gasoline, the ozone forming potential of ethanol blends is even lower than in the U.S., where ethanol blends are allowed to have increased volatility. The emissions produced by burning ethanol are less reactive with sunlight than those produced by burning gasoline. This results in a lower potential for forming the damaging ozone.
The Greenhouse Effect
The 'Greenhouse Effect' refers to the Earth's atmosphere trapping the sun's radiation. It is a term often used synonymously with 'Global Warming', which refers to the increasing average global temperature, arising from an increase in greenhouse gases from industrial activity and population growth. Greenhouse gases contributing to the Greenhouse Effect include carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide.
The term 'Climate Change' refers to a wide range of changes in weather patterns that result from global warming. A substantial increase in the Earth's average temperature could result in a change in agricultural patterns and melting of polar ice caps, raising sea levels and causing flooding of low-lying coastal areas.
Under current conditions, use of ethanol-blended fuels as E85 (85% ethanol and 15% gasoline) can reduce the net emissions of greenhouse gases by as much as 37.1%. Ethanol-blended fuel as E10 (10% ethanol and 90% gasoline) reduces greenhouse gases by up to 3.9%. These blends are available at 1,000 retail stations across Canada. By the year 2010, the reductions for E85 and E10 are projected to be 44.5% and 4.6%, respectively. This represents about 1% of the total greenhouse gas reduction required to meet Canada's commitment to the Kyoto Protocol (Levelton Engineering Ltd. and (S&T)2 Consulting Inc., 1999). It is expected that once ethanol is made from cellulose, the greenhouse gas emissions reductions will further improve.
30% Reduction in Carbon Monoxide (CO) Emissions
Carbon monoxide is a toxic gas that contributes to air pollution. It is of particular concern when vehicles are operating at lower temperatures. Oxygenated gasolines, such as ethanol blends, lower the levels of CO emitted, by promoting a more complete combustion of the fuel.
6% to 10% Net Reduction in Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Entering the Atmosphere
Carbon dioxide is a normal product of burning fuels that contributes to global warming. More CO2 is absorbed by crop growth than is released by manufacturing and using ethanol.
The environmentally beneficial attributes of ethanol-blended gasoline have resulted in its designation as an "Environmental ChoiceTM" product, displaying the "EcoLogoTM" at licensed retail outlets.
What are the environmental implications of feedstock production associated with the production of ethanol for fuel?
Fuel ethanol is produced from biologically renewable sources, such as grain or wood products.
With the development of sustainable and environmentally sensitive production methods in the agricultural sector, the impact of farming practices is very minimal. The demand for grain to produce fuel ethanol has not resulted in an increased corn or wheat acreage in Canada.
What are the by-products/co-products of fuel ethanol production?
Flour, Corn Oil, Corn Meal, Corn Grits
Used in producing food for human consumption.
Used as a high fibre and protein food additive.
Corn Gluten Meal and Corn Gluten Feed
Used as high protein animal feed additives.
Used as animal feed additives.
Dry Distiller's Grains
Used as high protein and energy animal feed.
Used as a refrigerant, in carbonated beverages, to help vegetable crops grow more rapidly in greenhouses, and to flush oil wells.
How will fuel ethanol impact Canadian agriculture?
Fuel ethanol represents an important new market for Canadian grains.
Impact on exports
Ethanol production will not likely affect Canadian grain exports. If all gasoline sold in Canada contained 10% ethanol made from Canadian grains, 8 million tonnes of grain would be used, compared to current exports of 24 million tonnes, and current production of 50 million tonnes. There will still be a surplus for export.
Impact on grain prices
The prices of grains have historically moved in parallel with oil prices. Distiller's grains and gluten feed are high-protein feeds that are co-products produced from grains when starch is made into ethanol. Therefore, when the cost of grain is high, a greater portion of the processor's costs can be recovered through the sale of protein feeds.
Distiller's grains, a co-product from ethanol production, will also impact the availability of protein supplements for cattle and other ruminants, thereby decreasing the demand for imported soybean meal. The potential also exists to "partner" fuel ethanol plants with other agricultural operations, such as the combined ethanol plant-cattle feedlot operation in Lanigan, Saskatchewan. Other agricultural partners could include dairy operations, feed mills, grain elevators, greenhouses, mushroom plants, and co-generation plants.
Can ethanol be produced from off-grade or damaged corn?
Yes. This is a good market for off-grade or damaged corn. As can be expected, the price paid by the ethanol processor for the corn will be affected, as well as the value of the distiller's grains.
What are alternative feedstocks for ethanol production?
Currently, corn is the primary feedstock for ethanol production. In some areas of the country, wheat and wood are also used. In the future, other agricultural feedstocks and crop residues such as straw, stover, or corn cobs may be used to produce ethanol.
How much ethanol is produced from a bushel of corn or wheat?
The industry average is slightly more than 10 litres per bushel in addition to the high protein livestock feeds and carbon dioxide produced.
Why is fuel ethanol blended?
Brazil is able to operate nearly half of its cars on pure ethanol. Most engines need some modification to run on pure ethanol. A 10% blend requires no engine modification while making a contribution to reducing emissions.
How has the government responded to the production and use of ethanol-blended fuels?
The Government of Canada has granted an excise tax exemption on the ethanol portion of gasoline, as it is made from a renewable resource. Many Canadian provinces also have provided for road tax exemptions. These tax exemptions allow ethanol-blended fuels to be sold at a competitive price.
'FleetWise' is a federal initiative to address the pollution caused by vehicle emissions and its effect on climate change. It involves a gradual phased-in increase in use of alternative fuels, such as ethanol. The Government of Canada has committed to integrating environmental considerations and sound management practices in the operation of its motor vehicles. This includes a phased-in acquisition of alternative fuel vehicles, by the year 2005.
Is ethanol production energy efficient?
Ethanol contains about 22,400 (high heating value) BTUs per litre. The energy content, however, may not be as important as the energy replaced. Due to the higher combustion efficiency of ethanol and its octane credit at the refinery, for example, ethanol can replace 26,575 BTU of gasoline (Levelton Engineering Ltd. and (S&T)2 Consulting Inc.).
Using the displacement value for calculating the energy content of co-products,
there is a further 3,720 BTU/litre of energy in ethanol represented by the co-products. The total energy represented
by a litre of ethanol is therefore 30,290 BTU. It takes about 4,700 BTU of energy to grow the corn required for
one litre of ethanol. This is about 15.5% of the energy in the ethanol and the co-product. It takes a further 13,300
BTU (43.9%) of the energy in the ethanol) to process the corn to ethanol using current technology and practices.
It is expected that fully optimized plants will be able to lower this to 10,600 BTU 935.0%) in the near future.
If corn farmers use state-of-the-art, energy efficient and sustainable farming techniques and ethanol plants integrate state-of-the-art production processes, the amount of energy contained in the ethanol and its co-products can be more than twice the energy used to grow the corn and convert it into ethanol.
How will using ethanol-blended fuels affect my vehicle?
What is the effect of using ethanol-blended fuels on the manufacturer's warranty of my vehicle?
When the use of ethanol began in 1979, most automobile manufacturers did not even address alcohol fuels. As soon as each manufacturer tested their vehicles, they approved the use of a 10% ethanol blend. Today, all manufacturers approve the use of 10% ethanol blends, and some even recommend it for environmental reasons.
Is it necessary to make changes to my vehicle in order to use ethanol-blended fuels?
All cars built since the 1970s are fully compatible with up to 10% ethanol in the mixture.
Will ethanol-blended fuels work in fuel-injected engines?
Yes. It may be necessary to change the filter more frequently. Ethanol helps to clean out the fuel-injection system, and may aid in the maintenance of a cleaner engine.
Since 1985, all ethanol blends and nearly all non-ethanol gasolines have contained detergent additives that are designed to prevent injector deposits. These detergents have been very effective in addressing this issue.
Does ethanol in the fuel work as an effective gas line anti-freeze?
Gas line anti-freeze contains alcohol-usually methanol, ethanol, or isopropyl, which can be used up to a 0.3% level in a car's fuel tank. All alcohols have the ability to absorb water, and therefore condensation in the fuel system is absorbed and does not have the opportunity to collect and freeze. If an ethanol blend contains 10% ethanol, it is able to absorb more water than a small bottle of isopropyl, and eliminates the need and expense of adding a gas line anti-freeze.
Will ethanol burn valves?
Ethanol will not burn engine valves. In fact, ethanol burns cooler than gasoline. Ethanol high-powered racing engines use pure alcohol for that reason.
Will using ethanol-blended fuels plug the fuel filters in my vehicle?
Ethanol can loosen contaminants and residues that have been deposited by previous gasoline fills. These can collect in the fuel filter. This problem has happened occasionally in older cars, and can easily be corrected by changing fuel filters.
Symptoms of a plugged fuel filter will be hesitation, missing, and a loss of power. Once your car's fuel system is clean, you will notice improved performance.
Can I mix fuels?
Yes. All gasolines in Canada (including low-level ethanol blends) must meet the specifications of the Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB). They are all interchangeable.
What is the effect of using ethanol-blended fuels on fuel economy?
Changes in fuel economy are minimal. While a 10% ethanol blend contains about 97% of the energy of 'pure' gasoline, this is compensated by the fact that the combustion efficiency of the ethanol-blended fuel is increased. The net result is that most consumers do not detect a difference in their fuel economy, although many people using ethanol-blended fuels have said that their fuel economy has improved.
Can ethanol-blended fuels be used in ATV's, chainsaws or other power or recreational equipment?
Yes. An ethanol blend may be used anywhere that unleaded gasoline is used. Farmers, cities, counties, and rural electric co-op fleets, plus snowmobile racers and fishing guides in the U.S. use ethanol blends exclusively with no performance problems. Adjustments may be required for air intake. It is important to consult your owner's manual.
Is it safe to handle fuel ethanol blends?
The WHMIS Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) reveals that the properties of ethanol blends are substantially the same as conventional gasoline blends. Occupational health and safety risks presented by the use of ethanol gasoline do not appear to be any different than those posed by conventional gasoline blends.
Do ethanol blends need special handling or storage?
Only in special circumstances. The gasoline marketer should pump any accumulated water from the storage tank, and add a final filter to the dispensing hose. It is wise also to check seasonally used small engines such as chainsaws and outboard motors (which are more susceptible to water contamination) for the presence of water, and drain the tank if necessary.
What are the alternatives to ethanol as an oxygenate? How do they compare?
Methanol is a derivative of natural gas. It is less expensive to produce than ethanol but is highly corrosive, more volatile than ethanol, and more damaging to plastic and rubber fuel system components (elastomers). It also requires a co-solvent (usually ethanol). Ethanol provides better water tolerance than methanol.
MTBE (Methyl Tertiary Butyl Ether) is a high octane, low volatility, oxygenated fuel component made by combining methanol and isobutylene from oil refineries. It is not as sensitive to water as the alcohols, and does not increase the volatility of most gasolines. It is known to have a very distinct odor. It is non-corrosive and relatively low-priced. It is currently the most widely used oxygenate, but is derived from a non-renewable resource.
ETBE (Ethyl Tertiary Butyl Ether) has properties similar to MTBE, but is produced by combining ethanol (derived from a renewable resource) and isobutylene.
TAME and TAEE
TAME (Tertiary Amyl Methyl Ether) and TAEE (Tertiary Amyl Ethyl Ether) are complex methyl and ethyl ethers, respectively. They are relatively new and have similar characteristics to MTBE and ETBE.
How much fuel ethanol is being produced?
Canada's current annual ethanol production, for all markets (1999) is approximately 238 million litres a year. With additional proposed development of ethanol production plants, Canadian potential production in the next few years is at 664 million litres per year.
How much fuel ethanol is being used?
It is difficult to ascertain current levels of fuel ethanol use in Canada. In the U.S., it now represents about 9% of total gasoline sales, or the equivalent of the total Canadian gasoline consumption. Over two trillion kilometres have been traveled using fuel ethanol blends.
Who produces alcohol?
Additional proposed development of ethanol production plants includes those by
Who sells ethanol-blended fuels? Where can I purchase them?
Across Canada, there are approximately 950 retailers of ethanol-blended fuels (March 1999), excluding those who are not listed with the Canadian Renewable Fuels Association.
Mohawk Oil is presently selling ethanol blends at over 290 stations in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, the Yukon and Northern Ontario. Across southern Ontario, UPI Inc. retails ethanol blends at over 60 UPI Inc., FS and Co-op gasbars and cardlocks. They are available in all grades of gasoline and for on-farm delivery. On January 1, 1998, Sunoco Inc. launched ethanol-enhanced fuels at all its 275 retail outlets in Ontario. In eastern Ontario and western Quebec, MacEwen Petroleum Inc. is retailing ethanol blends at over 60 locations. Fuel ethanol retailing has expanded into Quebec with over 100 Sonic stations and other independent retail outlets. Other companies that have joined in the retailing of ethanol-blended fuels include Mr. Gas, Pioneer Petroleum, Frances Fuels, Stinson Petroleum and Sunys.
Where can I get more information?
Canadian Renewable Fuels Association
90 Woodlawn Rd. W.
Guelph, Ontario N1H 1B2