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Ethanol energy refers to the consumable energy derived from ethanol, or grain alcohol. Ethanol energy is a biomass, a renewable energy derived from a living or recently living organism. It may be used in place of non-renewable resources such as oil or coal, and can be derived from a number of products such as sugar cane, and corn. Converted ethanol energy may be used to fuel automobiles, heat homes, or to produce electricity. The impact of ethanol energy can be seen virtually worldwide as more and more countries consider its environmental and economic benefits.
Historically, the derivation of ethanol from sugar is an ancient tradition. The fermentation of sugar can create the same sort of grain alcohol found in most spirits or libations, and consumed by humans for its psychoactive properties. Ethanol is now used for much more than drinking. Since it can be obtained from a wide number of naturally-occurring products besides sugar, ethanol is regarded as a feasible alternative to the world’s dependency on finite, non-renewable fossil fuels.
The process of converting biomass like ethanol may be lengthy and energy-consuming, which has caused some critics to argue that biomass products like ethanol are “energy negative” because they require more energy to produce than is created. Others argue that ethanol is actually “energy positive,” as the byproducts created during some ethanol conversions may be used for other purposes. One example is deriving ethanol from corn, a process in which about 33 percent of unfermented byproduct remains. This byproduct, known as distillers grain, may be used as animal feed. The derivation of ethanol from sugar cane leaves far less byproduct than corn, making it a more efficient source of ethanol energy.
Due to its ability to reduce emissions when replacing, or when combined with, regular gasoline, ethanol may be found as a fuel or fuel additive in many countries, including the United States. The largest influence of ethanol energy use may be found in the motor fuel market of Brazil, where ethanol is derived from the country’s main crop, sugar cane, and the majority of new vehicles are manufactured to run on hydrous ethanol, which is roughly 95 percent ethanol and five percent water. Because the emissions from ethanol are much cleaner, biofuels like those found in Brazil have become much more commonplace in other countries. In the United States, ethanol is found as a fuel additive at most gasoline pumps.