Alcohol fuel

Alcohol fuel

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. The larger "n" is, the higher the energy density.

Alcohol fuels are usually of biological rather than petroleum sources. When obtained from biological sources, they are known as bioalcohols (e.g. bioethanol). It is important to note that 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.

Bioalcohols are still in developmental and research stages. Use of optimized crops with higher yields of energy, elimination of pesticides and fertilizers based on petroleum, and a more rigorous accounting process will help improve the feasibility of bioalcohols as fuels.

Methanol and Ethanol

:"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 ratios. Both alcohols have a high octane rating, with ethanol at 129 RON, 102 MON, (which equates to 116 AKI) and methanol at 123 RON, 103 MON (which equates to 113 AKI) [Owen, K., Coley., C.S. Weaver, "Automotive Fuels Reference Book", SAE International, ISBN 978-1560915898] . 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 [Kelly, K.J., Bailey, B.K., Coburn, T.C., Clark, W., Lissiuk, P. "Federal Test Procedure Emissions Test Results from Ethanol Variable-Fuel Vehicle Chevrolet Luminas", SAE Technical Paper 961092] . 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 contains soluble and insoluble contaminants [Brinkman, N., Halsall, R., Jorgensen, S.W., & Kirwan, J.E., "The Development Of Improved Fuel Specifications for Methanol (M85) amd Ethanol (Ed85), SAE Technical Paper 940764] . These soluble contaminants, halide ions such as chloride ions, has 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 piting 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 is 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. Fact|date=August 2008

"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 $100Fact|date=August 2008. "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, as a blend in pre-war Grand Prix Racing to the use of pure methanol in many racing series in primarily North America after the war. Although methanol for racing use mostly have been based on natural gas, methanol is an excellent biofuel and compared to ethanol its primary advantage is its much greater well-to-wheel efficiency when produced from syngas.

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. [cite web|url=|title=Tech: ethanol||accessdaymonth=22 May|accessyear=2007] . Since September 2007 petrol stations in NSW, Australia are mandated to supply all their petrol with 2% Ethanol content [cite web|url=|title=NSW to mandate ethanol in petrol|publisher=Sydney Morning Herald|accessdaymonth=05 October|accessyear=2007]

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

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


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 [cite web|url=|title=Make your own Fuel||accessdaymonth=22 May|accessyear=2007] . 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 [cite web|url=|title=BP, ABF and DuPont Unveil $400 Million Investment in UK Biofuels |publisher=BP|accessdaymonth=3August|accessyear=2007] 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. [cite web|url=|title=Butanol Works in your Car Today|publisher=Environmental Energy, inc|accessdaymonth=22 May|accessyear=2007]

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 [ [ Home ] ] .

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 country

Alcohol 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 US [pt icon cite news|url=|title=Lula diz que taxa dos EUA sobre etanol não tem sentido|publisher=Invertia|date=2007-03-05|accessdate=2007-05-22] . 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 2004 on, alcohol is rapidly rising its market share once again because of new technologies involving hybrid fuel car engines cite news|url=|title=The rise, fall and rise of Brazil's biofuel|publisher=BBC News|date=2006-01-24|accessdate=2007-05-22] , 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 February 2007, approx. 80% of new vehicles sold in Brazil are hybrid fuel [pt icon cite news|url=|title=Venda de carros flex cai em fevereiro para 116,5 mil unidades|publisher=Invertia|date=2007-03-06|accessdate=2007-05-22]

Because of the Brazilian leading production and technology, many countries became very interested in importing alcohol fuel and adopting the "Flex" vehicle concept. In March 7th 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.

Alcohol in Russia

Other than Brazil, the only two other countries with an extensive program for supplying alcohol fuel to supplement petroleum use is Russia, which has reduced its dependency on oil by using methanol made from the destructive pyrolysis of eucalyptus wood and fibre. The other, China has reported with a 70% methanol use to conventional gasoline an independance from crude oil.

Alcohol in the United States

:"See E85"The United States at the end of 2007 was producing 7 billion gallons (26.9 billion liters) per year. [ Ethanol Fact Book] ] 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.

ee also

* Anaerobic digestion
* Bioconversion of biomass to mixed alcohol fuels
* Bioethanol
* Biogas
* Butanol
* Direct biofuel
* E85
* Ecalene
* Energy development
* Ethanol fuel
* Hydrogen fuel
* Methanol fuel
* Propanol
* Timeline of alcohol fuel


External links

* [,,contentMDK:21501336~pagePK:64167689~piPK:64167673~theSitePK:2795143,00.html World Bank, Biofuels: The Promise and the Risks. World Development Report 2008: Agriculture for Development]
* [ Alcohol Stoves]
* [ GTA Energy, Inc.]
* [ Biobutanol] by EERE.

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