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Although Fossil fuels have become the dominant energy resource for the modern world, alcohol has been used as a fuel throughout history. The first four aliphatic alcohols (methanol, ethanol, propanol, and butanol) are of interest as fuels because they can be synthesized biologically, and they have characteristics which allow them to be used in current engines. One advantage shared by all four alcohols is octane rating. Biobutanol has the advantage that its energy density is closer to gasoline than the other alcohols (while still retaining over 25% higher octane rating) - however, these advantages are outweighed by disadvantages (compared to ethanol and methanol) concerning production, for instance. Generally speaking, the chemical formula for alcohol fuel is CnH2n+1OH.

Alcohol fuels are usually of biological rather than petroleum sources. When obtained from biological sources, they are known as bioalcohols (e.g. bioethanol). There is no chemical difference between biologically produced alcohols and those obtained from other sources. However, ethanol that is derived from petroleum should not be considered safe for consumption as this alcohol contains about 5% methanol and may cause blindness or death. This mixture may also not be purified by simple distillation, as it forms an azeotropic mixture.

Methanol and ethanolEdit

Main articles: Methanol fuel, Ethanol fuel

Methanol and ethanol can both be derived from fossil fuels or from biomass. Ethanol is produced through fermentation of sugars and methanol from synthesis gas.

As a fuel methanol and ethanol both have advantages and disadvantages over fuels such as petrol and diesel. In spark ignition engines both alcohols can run at a much higher EGR rates and with higher compression ratio. Both alcohols have a high octane rating, with ethanol at 109 RON, 90 MON, (which equates to 99.5 AKI) and methanol at 109 RON, 89 MON (which equates to 99 AKI) [1]. Ordinary European petrol is typically 95 RON, 85 MON, equal to 90 AKI. Note that AKI refers to 'Anti-Knock Index' which averages the RON and MON ratings (RON+MON)/2, and is used on U.S. gas station pumps. As a compression ignition engine fuel, both alcohols create very little particulates, but their low cetane number means that an ignition improver like glycol must be mixed into the fuel with approx. 5%.

With SI engines alcohols have the potential to reduce NOx, CO, HC and particulates. A test with E85 fueled Chevrolet Luminas showed that NMHC went down by 20-22%, NOx by 25-32% and CO by 12-24% compared to reformulated gasoline[2]. Toxic emissions of benzene and 1,3 Butadiene also decreased while aldehyde emissions increased (acetaldehyde in particular).

Tailpipe emissions of CO2 also decrease due to the lower carbon-to-hydrogen ratio of these alcohols, and the improved engine efficiency.

Methanol and ethanol contain soluble and insoluble contaminants [3]. Halide ions, which are soluble contaminants, such as chloride ions, have a large effect on the corrosivity of alcohol fuels. Halide ions increase corrosion in two ways: they chemically attack passivating oxide films on several metals causing pitting corrosion, and they increase the conductivity of the fuel. Increased electrical conductivity promotes electrical, galvanic and ordinary corrosion in the fuel system. Soluble contaminants such as aluminum hydroxide, itself a product of corrosion by halide ions, clogs the fuel system over time. To prevent corrosion the fuel system must be made of suitable materials, electrical wires must be properly insulated and the fuel level sensor must be of pulse and hold type (or similar). In addition, high quality alcohol should have a low concentration of contaminants and have a suitable corrosion inhibitor added.

Methanol and ethanol are also incompatible with some polymers. The alcohol is solved by the polymers causing swelling, and over time the oxygen breaks down the carbon-carbon bonds in the polymer causing a reduction in tensile strength. For the past few decades though, most cars have been designed to tolerate up to 10% ethanol (E10) without problem. This include both fuel system compatibility and lambda compensation of fuel delivery with fuel injection engines featuring closed loop lambda control. In some engines ethanol may degrade some compositions of plastic or rubber fuel delivery components designed for conventional petrol, and also be unable to lambda compensate the fuel properly.

"FlexFuel" vehicles have upgraded fuel system and engine components which are designed for long life using E85 or M85, and the ECU can adapt to any fuel blend between gasoline and E85 or M85. Typical upgrades include modifications to: fuel tanks, fuel tank electrical wiring, fuel pumps, fuel filters, fuel lines, filler tubes, fuel level sensors, fuel injectors, seals, fuel rails, fuel pressure regulators, valve seats and inlet valves. The cost of this E85 upgrade to a modern engine is inexpensive and is less than $100. "Total Flex" Autos destined for the Brazilian market can use E100 (100% Ethanol).

One liter of ethanol contain 21.1 MJ, a liter of methanol 15.8 MJ and a liter of gasoline approximately 32.6 MJ. In other words, for the same energy content as one liter or one gallon of gasoline, one needs 1.6 liters/gallons of ethanol and 2.1 liters/gallons of methanol. Although actual fuel consumption doesn't increase as much as energy content numbers indicate.

Methanol has been proposed as a future biofuel. Methanol has a long history as a racing fuel. Early Grand Prix Racing used blended mixtures as well as pure methanol. The use of the fuel was primarily used in North America after the war. However, methanol for racing purposes has largely been based on natural gas and therefore would not be considered as biofuel. Methanol it is possible biofuel, however compared to ethanol, its primary advantage is its much greater well-to-wheel efficiency when produced from syngas (methanol might be produced from carbon dioxide and captive hydrogen derived using nuclear power or any renewable energy source—see methanol economy).

Ethanol is already being used extensively as a fuel additive, and the use of ethanol fuel alone or as part of a mix with gasoline is increasing. Compared to methanol its primary advantage is that the fuel is non-toxic, although the fuel will produce some toxic exhaust emissions. From 2007, the Indy Racing League will use ethanol as its exclusive fuel, after 40 years of using methanol.[4]. Since September 2007 petrol stations in NSW, Australia are mandated to supply all their petrol with 2% Ethanol content[5]

Methanol combustion is: 2CH3OH + 3O2 → 2CO2 + 4H2O + heat

Ethanol combustion is: C2H5OH + 3O2 → 2CO2 + 3H2O + heat

Butanol and PropanolEdit

Propanol and butanol are considerably less toxic and less volatile than methanol. In particular, butanol has a high flashpoint of 35 °C, which is a benefit for fire safety, but may be a difficulty for starting engines in cold weather. The concept of flash point is however not directly applicable to engines as the compression of the air in the cylinder means that the temperature is several hundred degrees Celsius before ignition takes place.

The fermentation processes to produce propanol and butanol from cellulose are fairly tricky to execute, and the Weizmann organism (Clostridium acetobutylicum) currently used to perform these conversions produces an extremely unpleasant smell, and this must be taken into consideration when designing and locating a fermentation plant. This organism also dies when the butanol content of whatever it is fermenting rises to 7%. For comparison, yeast dies when the ethanol content of its feedstock hits 14%. Specialized strains can tolerate even greater ethanol concentrations - so-called turbo yeast can withstand up to 16% ethanol [6]. However, if ordinary Saccharomyces yeast can be modified to improve its ethanol resistance, scientists may yet one day produce a strain of the Weizmann organism with a butanol resistance higher than the natural boundary of 7%. This would be useful because butanol has a higher energy density than ethanol, and because waste fibre left over from sugar crops used to make ethanol could be made into butanol, raising the alcohol yield of fuel crops without there being a need for more crops to be planted.

Despite these drawbacks, DuPont and British Petroleum have recently announced that they are jointly to build a small scale butanol fuel demonstration plant [7] alongside the large bioethanol plant they are jointly developing with Associated British Foods.

Energy Environment International developed a method for producing butanol from biomass, which involves the use of two separate micro-organisms in sequence to minimize production of acetone and ethanol byproducts.[8]

The Swiss company Butalco GmbH uses a special technology to modify yeasts in order to produce butanol instead of ethanol. Yeasts as production organisms for butanol have decisive advantages compared to bacteria[9].

Butanol combustion is: C4H9OH + 6O2 → 4CO2 + 5H2O + heat

The 3-carbon alcohol, propanol (C3H7OH), is not used as a direct fuel source for petrol engines that often (unlike ethanol, methanol and butanol), with most being directed into use as a solvent. However, it is used as a source of hydrogen in some types of fuel cell; it can generate a higher voltage than methanol, which is the fuel of choice for most alcohol-based fuel cells. However, since propanol is harder to produce than methanol (biologically OR from oil), methanol fuel cells are still used a lot more often than those that utilise propanol.

By countryEdit

Alcohol in BrazilEdit

Main article: Ethanol fuel in Brazil

Brazil was until recently the largest producer of alcohol fuel in the world, typically fermenting ethanol from sugarcane. The country produces a total of 18 billion liters (4.8 billion gallons) annually, of which 3.5 billion liters are exported, 2 billion of them to the U.S. [10]. Alcohol cars debuted in the Brazilian market in 1978 and became quite popular because of heavy subsidy, but in the 80's prices rose and gasoline regained the leading market share.

However, from 2003 on, alcohol is rapidly rising its market share once again because of new technologies involving flexible-fuel engines [11], called "Flex" by all major car manufacturers (Volkswagen, General Motors, Fiat, etc.). "Flex" engines work with gasoline, alcohol or any mixture of both fuels. As of May 2009, more than 88% of new vehicles sold in Brazil are flex fuel [12]

Because of the Brazilian leading production and technology, many countries became very interested in importing alcohol fuel and adopting the "Flex" vehicle concept.[11] In March 7 of 2007, US president George W. Bush visited the city of São Paulo to sign agreements with Brazilian president Lula on importing alcohol and its technology as an alternative fuel.[13]

Alcohol in ChinaEdit

China has reported with a 70% methanol use to conventional gasoline an independence from crude oil.

National Committee of Planning and Action Coordination for Clean Automobile had listed key technologies related to alcohol/ether fuel and accelerated industrialization into its main agenda. Alcohol fuels had become part of five main alternative fuels: Two of which were alcohols; methanol and ethanol[14]

Alcohol in RussiaEdit

Russia has reduced its dependency on oil by using methanol made from the destructive pyrolysis of eucalyptus wood and fibre. However, this system is less likely to be emulated elsewhere, due to the disadvantages of methanol fuel.

Alcohol in the United StatesEdit

See E85

The United States at the end of 2007 was producing 7 billion gallons (26.9 billion liters) per year.[15] E10 or Gasohol is commonly marketed in Delaware and E85 is found in many states, particularly in the Mid West where ethanol from corn is produced locally. Due to government subsidies, many new vehicles are sold each year that can use E85, although the majority are run solely on gasoline due to the limited availability of E85.

Many states and municipalities have mandated that all gasoline fuel be blended with 10 percent alcohol (usually ethanol) during some or all of the year. This is to reduce pollution and allows these areas to comply with federal pollution limits. Because alcohol is partially oxygenated, it produces less overall pollution, including ozone. In some areas (California in particular) the regulations may also require other formulations or added chemicals that reduce pollution, but add complexity to the fuel distribution and increase the cost of the fuel.

Alcohol in the European UnionEdit

Consumption of Bioethanol (GWh)[16][17][18]
# Country 2005 2006 2007 2008
1 Template:FRA 871 1,719 3,164 4,693
2 Template:GER 1,682 3,544 3,448 4,675
3 Template:SWE 1,681 1,894 2,119 2,488
4 Template:NED 0 179 1,023 1,512
5 Template:ESP 1,314 1,332 1,512 1,454
6 Template:POL 329 611 837 1,382
7 Template:UK 502 563 906 1,223
8 Template:FIN 0 10 20 858
9 Template:AUT 0 0 199 633
10 Template:HUN 28 136 314 454
11 Template:CZE 0 13 1 378
12 Template:IRL 0 13 59 207
13 Template:LTU 10 64 134 182
14 Template:BEL 0 0 0 145
15 Template:SVK 0 4 140 76
16 Template:BUL - 0 0 72
17 Template:DEN 0 42 60 50
18 Template:SLO 0 2 9 28
19 Template:EST 0 0 0 17
20 Template:LAT 5 12 0 0
21 Template:LUX 0 0 14 11
22 Template:POR 0 0 0 0
23 Template:ITA 59 0 0 0
24 Template:GRE 0 0 0 0
25 Template:ROM - 0 0 0
26 Template:MLT 0 0 0 0
27 Template:CYP 0 0 0 0
27 Template:EU 6,481 10,138 13,962 20,538
1 toe = 11,63 MWh, 0 = no data
Alcohol consumption does not specify the traffic fuel use
The 2008 data is not confirmed yet

See alsoEdit


External linksEdit


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