Bioethanol: FAQ

Ethanol fuels questions and answers.

Key words: biomass, biofuel, ethanol, fermentation, how, benefits, figures, GHG.

What is ethanol

Ethanol is a liquid alcohol resulting from the fermentation of sugar or starch converted into sugar. In Canada and the United States, fuel ethanol is produced from grains such as corn, wheat and barley. A small amount of ethanol is currently being made, on an experimental basis, from agricultural cellulosic biomass.

Ethanol is used either as an ingredient in fuel blends or as a primary fuel. There are two types of ethanol fuels:

  • Gasoline-ethanol blends with a low ethanol content (up to 10%). It can be used in today's vehicles. They are the main ethanol fuels used in Canada.
  • Gasoline-ethanol blends with a high ethanol content (60 to 85%). It can be used in special vehicles, called flex-fuel, built in the factory.

Why do we put ethanol in fuels?

Adding ethanol to gasoline increases its octane number (an indicator of anti-knock power and resistance to early ignition). In addition, ethanol contains oxygen, which allows for cleaner and more complete combustion. The quality of the environment is improved.

The development, production and retailing of ethanol fuels are also generating significant new activity in rural areas and creating new markets for grain grown in Canada.

How is the use of ethanol beneficial for the environment?

Burning ethanol fuels, compared to pure gasoline, emits fewer greenhouse gases (GHGs) which contribute to climate change. Ethanol is made from plants that absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) as they grow. Over the entire life cycle of the fuel - that is, from the start of plant growth to combustion in engines - gasoline blends with 10% ethanol produce up to 4% of GHG less if the ethanol is made from cereals, and 8% less if it comes from cellulosic biomass. Blends containing 85% ethanol (E85) can reduce emissions by 60-80%. So the use of gasoline-ethanol can help Canada meet its Kyoto Protocol targets.

Can ethanol fuels be used in any vehicle?

All automobiles made since the 1970s can run on fuel containing up to 10% ethanol.

(If in doubt, consult the owner's manual.) Flex-fuel vehicles are designed for higher ethanol content gasoline blends, but these blends are not currently sold at any commercial fueling stations in Canada.

Can ethanol fuels be used year round?

Certainly. In fact, gasoline-ethanol has the qualities of an antifreeze for gas lines.

Do vehicle manufacturers approve the use of ethanol blends? Do these mixtures affect the vehicle warranty?

All vehicle manufacturers approve the use of gasoline blends containing up to 10% ethanol in regular late-model vehicles, and higher ethanol content in flex-fuel vehicles. Moreover, several manufacturers are already producing flex-fuel vehicles that consume mixtures with an ethanol content of up to 85%. The vehicle warranty allows the use of gasoline-ethanol.

What is the effect of gasoline-ethanol on vehicles?

Ethanol contributes to the cleanliness of the engine and to the cleaning of the injection system. But since it helps disperse contaminants and residue from the fuel system, its use may require you to change the fuel filter more often. Since 1985, all gasoline-ethanol blends and almost all non-ethanol gasoline contain dispersant additives, which help prevent deposit formation in the injectors. In addition, gasoline-ethanol does not affect the proper functioning of the engine and its components.

Can we mix gasoline-ethanol and gasoline?

Yes, you can mix ethanol gasoline and "pure" gasoline in the same tank.

All types of gasoline used in Canada (including low ethanol blends) must meet regulatory standards.

What is the effect of gasoline-ethanol on fuel consumption?

Even though 10% ethanol blends only contain about 97% of the energy of “pure” gasoline, this difference is partly compensated by more efficient combustion.

The use of gasoline-ethanol could increase fuel consumption by 2 to 3%. Several other factors have an effect on consumption; for example, driving at 120 km / h increases fuel consumption by 20% more than driving at 100 km / h.



Synthetic diagram of biofuel pathways (including ethanol).

Click to enlarge

Other documents:
Flex Fuel vehicles
Bioethanol report on France2
The cost of biofuels
Videoconference of the CNAM

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