Written by Melia Ortiz, ESLLC 2016-2017
Methanol and ethanol offer fuel sources that release fewer carbon emissions than traditional gasoline, however, there are other risks associated with these fuels that should not be overlooked. We must gain a better understanding of all positive and negative effects of alternative fuels before encouraging their usage.
Ethanol is a grain alcohol usually produced from corn. Therefore, 36 percent of all corn grown in the United States is used for fuel. (Slater, 2017) The increase of demand for ethanol has led to a greater demand for corn gaining this bill support from farmers. However, it has also led to a rise in corn prices and livestock feed prices. (Borders & Burnett, 2007) This additionally poses a serious environmental problem. The increase in corn growth to produce ethanol has also lead to loss of wildlands, soil erosion, water pollution, and groundwater depletion. Ideally, the emissions that ethanol does release would be absorbed as corn is grown to produce more ethanol. While this is partially true, a study by professor John DeCicco from the University of Michigan Energy Institute found that only 37 percent of carbon generated by biofuels is reabsorb. (Slater, 2017) Furthermore, ethanol fuels get significantly lower gas mileage than traditional gasoline. (Borders & Burnett, 2007)
It can be challenging to determine to precise emissions from methanol because there are multiple ways in which it can be produced, but like ethanol, it is regarded as producing significantly less emissions than traditional gasoline. Methanol is usually produced by heating natural gases to create a synthesis gas. Carbon dioxide is then added and the gas is converted into a liquid. (Khan, 2013) This process involves a large amount of waste. Methanol plants can produce around 200 gallons of wastewater each minute of production as well as air pollution from the catalysts including carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, volatile organic compounds, and fine particulate matter. Furthermore, methanol requires the construction of new pipelines. In both liquid and gas states, methanol is flammable and toxic. However, unlike gasoline, methanol biodegrades quickly in cases of a spill. (Place & Adjorlolo, 2015)
The proposed Open Fuel Standards have attempted to require vehicle manufactures to make a large percentage of vehicles qualified vehicles. One way in which a vehicle can be considered qualified is by being a flexible fuel vehicle, meaning it can run on gasoline, E85 (contains ethanol), or M85 (contains methanol). While the bill works to limit our dependency on gasoline, its encouragement of the use ethanol and methanol is concerning. While deciding to use alternative fuels, it is important to ask: is it worth the risks? Methanol and ethanol have environmental benefits, but they are not solutions to our fuel problem. We need to look further and seek out better solutions.
Borders, M., & Burnett, H. S. (2007, August 2). The Environmental Costs of Ethanol. Retrieved April 30, 2017, from The National Center for Policy Anaysis: http://www.ncpa.org/pub/ba591
Khan, A. (2013, December 27). the CO2 Advantage of Methanol. Retrieved from Open Fuel Standard: http://openfuelstandard.blogspot.com/2013/
Place, E. d., & Adjorlolo, M. (2015, August 17). What Methanol Means for the Northwest. Retrieved from Sightline Institute: http://www.sightline.org/2015/08/17/what-methanol-means-for-the-northwest/
Slater, D. (2017, January 10). Are We Stuck with Corn Ethanol Forever? Retrieved April 4, 2017, from Sierra: http://www.sierraclub.org/sierra/2017-1-january-february/grapple/are-we-stuck-corn-ethanol-forever-big-ag-would-us-think-so