8.6 Applications of Ethanol Fuel Cell Technology

Dual fuel gas station at Sao Paulo, Brazil

Sao Paulo ethanol pump 04 2008 74 zoom by Mariordo Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Commons.

Ethanol fuel cells have the potential to become useful as power sources for transportation. They rely on a liquid fuel, just like current gasoline-powered engines, so they can use methods of storage, dispensing, and distribution that strongly resemble the infrastructure that’s already in place for gasoline. However, the cost of producing ethanol on such a massive scale might be prohibitive, and increased demand for ethanol has already caused the price of corn to increase, resulting in increases in other products that rely on corn such as meat fed with corn and soda made from high-fructose corn syrup.[27]

Ethanol is very energy-dense; there is a lot of energy that can be released by a small amount of fuel. This makes it a good substitute for other energy-dense liquids such as gasoline, but some difficulties remain. While ethanol burns cleaner than gasoline, releasing fewer harmful chemicals into the atmosphere, it still releases CO2, which is a greenhouse gas. Scientists are divided about how “green” ethanol is as a fuel; there are different estimates of the “carbon budget” of ethanol: how much CO2 gets taken out of the atmosphere by growing plants versus how much gets put back into the atmosphere when those plants are burned as ethanol.

Overall, ethanol has the potential to be a very useful alternative fuel source. But more research is needed to increase the efficiency of ethanol engines and make it truly competitive with our existing energy technology.

QUIZ - Chapter 8

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