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Ethanol, a Future Solution as an Alternative Fuel?
Maxime Legay

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Transporting masses of ethanol can not be done through pipelines, but commonly by trucks and rail transportation (University of Illinois). The travel of ethanol implying those methods is quite expensive and crucially affects the economical factor of ethanol. Can ethanol be transported through more efficient ways? How can ethanol improve its chemical efficiency to compensate the high-cost of the shipping? Below, I will discuss various extraction and processing methods of ethanol, and how its delivery to other countries affects the economy and price set by markets, and of ethanol itself.
Most vegetation, such as trees, grass and plants each contain different amount of sugars in fibrous materials. This material is called the cellulose. The cellulose is present in each plants and can easily be broken down into sugars (Biofuels Association of Australia). The extraction of sugar in a plant is generally what produces ethanol, also called ethyl or even more commonly, alcohol. Ethanol is not only made as a drinkable product, and can contain additive material depending on its production purpose. One of those is called cellulosic ethanol. Since it is not edible, it does not interfere with the use of crops for food or livestock feed. More about this will be explained in detail later. Crops residue such as cobs, rice stems, and corn leaves can also have their sugars extracted in order to produce ethanol (Odec). There are specific corn fields and crops that are grown to optimize the extraction of ethanol; and are fully grown for this purpose. This terrain is known as switch grass. To create both chemical or/and edible ethanol, it has to go through a process called fermentation (GCSE Science). Ethanol can be fermented from any source of starch.
Ethanol is not the direct product as it is extracted from plants. It has to go through one of the many processes to convert itself into edible ethanol (as food) or into chemical ethanol (for car fuel). The first and most common process is called the Milling Process. Ethanol livestock such as crops, plants or trees are grounded up to facilitate the processing. Then, sugar is dissolved from the ground material through a cooking process. This is when the starch or cellulose is converted into sugar. Heat will modify the early-ethanol’s consistency. The fermentation process now starts. Microbes such as yeast and bacteria form on the sugar. After further cooking and substance heating, ethanol is now created and can be consumed by humans as beer or wine, for example (GCSE Science). It is important to know that CO2 is a byproduct of the fermentation process (BBC). Finally, ethanol is distilled. This is to denature the product in order to use it as a medicine or fuel (U.S. National Library of Medicine). To do so, additive material, commonly gasoline is added to the product so it becomes non-consumable by humans (Odec). A slight variation of the Milling Process is the Wet Milling Process. It is just like the normal process but is used by larger ethanol producers. It consists of including a steeping period once the grain germs, oil, starch and gluten are separated and processed by byproducts. This converts ethanol into a high-fructose corn syrup. This substance can be used as a sweetener for human made food. Within this process, corn is refined and sold, such as gluten; as additive for cattle, poultry and hogs.

The Milling Process, also called The Dry Grind process has been recently optimized and reveal several improvements to note, such as an improvement in the energy efficiency and a reduction of water, size and complexity of the ethanol plant (West). This process also allows the recovery of more additional products from grain besides ethanol, CO2 and distillers grain. The procession of ethanol keeps involving, and ongoing research is affined to create better economic opportunities in the grain production of ethanol, as well as changing the way ethanol plants are economically perceived by the community. The Wet Milling Process reveals many options for end options (byproducts), which is a good thing. However, the process is much more complex, and requires a much higher investment than dry grind plants (West). Since most of the ethanol production comes from the Midwest USA (West), truck and rail transportation are the common modes of moving ethanol to terminals. Ethanol is not transported through pipelines, that are rather designed for petroleum-based products. However, some companies are starting to test the shipping of ethanol, which is economically advantageous. The current product transport mode is a problem, because it is more expensive, raising the prices to the markets; who are usually rather distant form ethanol plants (University of Illinois).
In conclusion, to improve the economical factor, researchers should continue improving the fermentation techniques of ethanol to reduce the use of high-cost additional materials, recover more value-added products and create ship chains to reduce the shipping costs. Researchers should also continue to find ways to reduce the price of ethanol itself, like by increasing the distillation of  ethanol when it is not destined for food. That way, ethanol avoids tax on beverage alcohol (University of Illinois). With all these ways, it is possible to reduce the production and delivery price of ethanol, and avoid excessive increments of prices in markets.

Without in text citations and the work cited list: 833 Words.


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