Ethanol's on the way, but it will take awhile to get here and won't help Floridians cut their gasoline consumption substantially for years.
Ethanol Q & A
Ethanol, or ethyl alcohol, is a 200-proof grain alcohol. Chemically speaking, it's the same alcohol found in vodka or other distilled spirits. A clear, colorless and flammable liquid, it is produced by the fermentation of sugars.
Q. How is it made?
A. Most ethanol produced in the U.S. comes from corn, but only 70% of the kernel, the starch or sugar portion, is actually converted into ethanol. The fermented starch is then distilled and the excess water is removed to make ethanol. With today's technology, one bushel of corn yields 2.8 gallons of ethanol, although the yield is constantly increasing. Leftover portions of the corn containing fats, oils and proteins become distillers grain, a highly nutritious animal feed.
Q. Will it replace gasoline?
A. No. Ethanol is an additive, not a replacement for gasoline. While virtually all cars today can run on E10, a 10% ethanol/90% gasoline blend, the majority of vehicles aren't set up to burn the higher concentration of ethanol fuel, known as E85. Flexible Fuel Vehicles, which can run on anything from straight gasoline up to 85% ethanol, are usually identified as such in the vehicle's owners manual and inside the gas door.
Q. Will it lower gas prices?
A. It depends. According to the Consumer Federation of America, consumers who purchase E10 could be saving as much as 8 cents per gallon compared to straight gas. But a June 2005 study by the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that using ethanol as an additive to gasoline is associated with higher wholesale gasoline prices. The GAO study found that the average price for conventional gasoline with ethanol was about 4 cents per gallon higher than conventional without ethanol over the time period analyzed. According to the USDA, ethanol tends to track gasoline closely, meaning it doesn't raise or lower the cost of gasoline, but it does extend the overall supply of motor fuel in the country, thereby reducing the need for foreign oil.
Florida Fuel Usage
Floridians consume 8.6 billion gallons of gasoline a year, or nearly 24 million gallons each day, not including aviation fuels. Consumption is growing by about 300 million gallons per year, according to the Florida Department of Revenue. In 10 years, consumption will increase to 32.3 million gallons per day, assuming a 15% population growth.
By 2010, ethanol could potentially replace 490 million gallons of gasoline a year. On the face of it, providing enough of an E10 blend for every driver in the state should save 10% of the gas used by Floridians, or 980 million gallons per year. In reality, octane boosters are typically added to about only half of the fuel used, reducing the impact to 490 million gallons. The real benefit initially would come from ethanol's replacement of water-polluting MTBEs, the most common octane booster in Florida. New mandates contained in the federal energy bill passed last year, however, could boost the amount of ethanol used nationwide, including in Florida. The new Renewable Fuels Standard calls for a steady increase in the amount of ethanol used annually, up from 4 billion gallons in 2006 to 7.5 billion gallons by 2012.