Gas, diesel, electric, are all sources that help farmers with their everyday lives. Gas and diesel are seen as fossil fuels which we will run out of at some point so there needs to be a solution to slow the use of fossil fuels. Ethanol, a colorless volatile flammable liquid which is produced by the natural fermentation of sugars. The idea came from seeing these farmers use these fossil fuels and emitting a lot of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. A solution needed to be found. The solution to that, corn. Throughout the US roughly 40 percent of all the corn harvested will be used to create ethanol. The other corn you see in the field will be used for animal feed, exports, food/industrial, and residual. If you ever find yourself driving through Iowa which is the number one corn producer in the state remember that almost none of that corn in the fields is used as corn that we love to eat.
Seeing all the corn in the field it may be easy to comprehend how it can go from a stalk to a feed bag but how does it go from stalk to liquid that can be used in our vehicles? Once the corn is harvested and sent off to co-ops then farmers have been paid for their bushels and they go right back to farming. The corn however is ground down into a form of flour or meal which is a form of a starch. Liquefaction is the next step where water is added to make a slurry. Which is then heated to break down the starch molecules the enzyme alpha-amylase is added to further help breakdown the molecules. Next up is saccharification where the broken down starch molecules are further broken down into glucose. Fermentation occurs next when yeast is added to the slurry to break down the glucose, yeast gets energy from glucose; this is the step that ethanol is produced but it is only 10-15 percent ethanol. Distillation and dehydration is the process of evaporation and condensing which brings the mixture to 95 percent ethanol and the remaining five percent is strained and dehydrated to have pure ethanol. Denaturation is where a small amount of gas is added to make the ethanol undrinkable. There are byproducts of ethanol due to the process of how it is made and carbon dioxide is the main byproduct but there are other uses for the CO2 that is produced, carbonated beverages, producing dry ice for cold storage, and photosynthesis in greenhouses. The second byproduct is distillers grain which is residue from the fermentation tanks but is valued as a high protein ingredient in livestock feed. Most gasoline that is put into our cars is E10 which is 10% ethanol and can be used in most cars that are made later than 1986.
The ethanol industry began in the 1970s when the fuel became expensive and there started to be environmental concerns. Ethanol became popular due to it being biodegradable if spilled it quickly breaks down. Ethanol also reduces the emissions and other toxic pollutants. Ethanol being made from corn means that the corn absorbs the carbon dioxide that is constantly being produced into the atmosphere. The corn needs to be able to start the process of photosynthesis. Most of the ethanol is produced in the US however Brazil is the largest producer of ethanol in the world because they produce their ethanol from sugar cane and almost all the vehicles in Brazil run solely on ethanol. Most of the emissions were not coming from the cars that people drive everyday however it was coming from the equipment that is being used to farm the corn used for ethanol. The heightened production and use of ethanol helped close the doors of emissions. It is seen by farmers as a constant recycle circle when emissions are put off by tractors and other farm vehicles then the other remaining corn is able to absorb that carbon dioxide. Also stated before the carbon dioxide that is produced from the ethanol is able to be used for other things such as carbonation in sodas. Overall ethanol still has a long way to go before we use it instead of gasoline but it is a work in progress.
After reading this far hearing ethanol you may think of a few words such as gas, corn, and carbon dioxide. However it is also used in hand sanitizer which has become a big selling product in the past year and a half. According to the FDA there are only two approved alcohols that can be used in hand sanitizer isopropyl alcohol and ethanol. When companies put on their ingredient label that it contains alcohol they mean ethanol. The first hand sanitizer was released in 1997 and it started to gain popularity with CDC recommendations and use in the army. Hand sanitizers with a higher concentration of ethanol have a higher chance of killing those bacterias that live on our hands. Isopropyl alcohol and ethanol have about the same effectiveness rate sitting at 65-90 percent. While more corn should not be produced just for hand sanitizer because it could lead to more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere if there is “extra” ethanol it could be used to make hand sanitizers.
Ethanol is regularly used today even though people may not be aware they are using it either through gasoline or a by-product. There is not a single person that does not use ethanol in some form from animal feed to just opening a soda that is using the leftover carbon dioxide. While corn is a big factor in ethanol, any vegetation can be broken down into alcohol by using the process as stated previously corn is the most widely grown thing by Iowa which is the United States biggest corn producer. Eventually we may get to our vehicles being able to run solely on ethanol which would be good for fossil fuels because we could reserve them for when we really need them.
Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. (n.d.). Qas Hand Sanitizer and covid-19. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Retrieved October 26, 2021, from https://www.fda.gov/drugs/information-drug-class/qa-consumers-hand-sanitizers-and-covid-19.
Corn uses. Primary Website. (n.d.). Retrieved October 26, 2021, from https://www.iowacorn.org/corn-uses.
The history of ethanol in America – agclassroom.org. (n.d.). Retrieved October 26, 2021, from https://cdn.agclassroom.org/ok/lessons/upper/history_ethanol.pdf.
How ethyl, ethanol alcohol in hand sanitizers is made. PlaneAire®. (2021, March 10). Retrieved October 26, 2021, from https://www.planeaire.com/how-is-hand-sanitizer-made/?gclid=CjwKCAjwzt6LBhBeEiwAbPGOgceuAE30Kn_ssNM313JvAPQmbwaNMyd-UEbU1Q3XLDXkGO5eZ7djNxoCJUoQAvD_BwE.
Levac, K., & 13, A. (2018, August 13). How is ethanol made? Let’s Talk Science. Retrieved October 26, 2021, from https://letstalkscience.ca/educational-resources/backgrounders/how-ethanol-made.
Vaughan, C. (2020, March 30). Ethanol market is disturbing to American farmers. and now there’s covid-19. Successful Farming. Retrieved October 26, 2021, from https://www.agriculture.com/news/business/ethanol-market-is-disturbing-as-hell-to-american-farmers-and-now-there-s-covid-19.