Ethanol is basically grain alcohol. Remember the redneck at the party who would pour grain alcohol on the table and light it with his butane lighter?  If you don't, you're probably a better person for it.  Suffice it to say, the alcohol burned like crazy.  It was always a curiosity that people were eager to put that stuff in glass and drink it after seeing that.

Without boring you with the history, ethanol has been around since prehistoric times. As far as using it as fuel, Henry Ford designed the Model-T to run on ethanol calling it "the fuel of the future."  Today, Brazil is the largest producer of ethanol, primarily using sugar cane.  The United States is number two with our primary source being corn.  The problem with corn-based ethanol is it takes so much to make so little.  I've heard one stat that you could feed one person for 365 days on the same amount of corn it takes to fill up an SUV one time.  Because of government mandates, a third of our corn is going to produce ethanol.  That means everything related to corn - beef (farmers use corn to feed the cattle), milk, corn-based products - all have gone up in price because of the price of corn.  One of the complaints about using corn for ethanol, aside from jacking up other commodity prices, is the yield.  The net energy gain (taking into consideration how much it takes to make it compared to how much energy you get) is about 34 percent, and that's on the high side.  Sugar cane's net gain is anywhere from 300 to 800 percent.

There are those making great strides in using agricultural waste, switchgrass, paper waste and other sources to make ethanol.  If and when those technologies are brought to market, ethanol could soar as an energy source. Right now, because of the government mandates, it seems to be causing more problems than it's solving.

From the experts I've talked with, making ethanol is no easy task.  There are books that show you how (link below) but be prepared for an involved ordeal.

-Phil Valentine

Journey To Forever - Books on making ethanol





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