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Home Green (Renewable) Energy Biofuels - Ethanol and Biodiesels

Biofuels - Ethanol and Biodiesels

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"Biofuels" are transportation fuels like ethanol and biodiesel that are made from biomass materials. These fuels are usually blended with the petroleum fuels — gasoline and diesel fuel, but they can also be used on their own. Using ethanol or biodiesel means we don't burn quite as much fossil fuel. Ethanol and biodiesel are usually more expensive than the fossil fuels that they replace, but they are also cleaner-burning fuels, producing fewer air pollutants. 

Switchgrass can yield almost twice as much ethanol as corn, estimates geneticist Ken Vogel, who is conducting breeding and genetics research on switchgrass to improve its biomass yield and its ability to recycle carbon as a renewable energy crop. Photo by Brett Hampton.What Is Ethanol?

Ethanol is an alcohol fuel made from the sugars found in grains, such as: 

  • Corn
  • Sorghum
  • Barley

Other sources of sugars to produce ethanol include:

  • Potato skins
  • Rice
  • Sugar cane
  • Sugar beets
  • Yard clippings
  • Bark
  • Switchgrass

Most of the ethanol used in the United States today is distilled from corn. Scientists are working on cheaper ways to make ethanol by using all parts of plants and trees rather than just the grain. Farmers are experimenting with "woody crops," mostly small poplar trees and switchgrass, to see if they can be grown cheaply and abundantly.

A standard gas and biodiesel pump.Ethanol Is Blended With Gasoline

About 99% of the ethanol produced in the United States is used to make "E10" or "gasohol," a mixture of 10% ethanol and 90% gasoline. Any gasoline powered engine can use E10, but only specially made vehicles can run on E85, a fuel that is 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline.

What Is Biodiesel?

Biodiesel is a fuel made from vegetable oils, fats, or greases — such as recycled restaurant grease. Biodiesel fuel can be used in diesel engines without changing them. It is the fastest growing alternative fuel in the United States. Biodiesel, a renewable fuel, is safe, biodegradable, and produces lower levels of most air pollutants than petroleum-based products.


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