Ethanol Fuel: Production, Uses, Types, Pros and Cons.

Updated: Sep 8, 2020

Fossil resources used to manufacture fuels are becoming scarce. To less depend on fossil fuels, scientists have developed alternatives for vehicles: bio-fuels and more particularly, Ethanol fuel. In this article, we will answer the following questions:

What is Ethanol Fuel? How is it made? What are the different types or mixtures of ethanol fuel that exist? What are the advantages and risks of using ethanol as a fuel for cars? What are the future prospects of bioethanol?

What is Bioethanol?

Bioethanol is a biofuel produced from cereals (wheat, corn, etc.) or sugar beets, and intended for petrol engines. It is the most widely used biofuel in the world.

Bioethanol is the only liquid fuel for gasoline engines which is renewable and immediately available since it is produced from vegetable raw material, also called biomass. Hence the name bioethanol refers to the living vegetable and non-fossil origin of this fuel. Beets and cereals absorb CO2 from the atmosphere in large quantities during their growth through photosynthesis. They are then transformed to produce bioethanol, incorporated into petrol. The CO2 released into the atmosphere when the engine is running corresponds to the CO2 absorbed during the growth of biomass.

How is Bioethanol made?


Bioethanol is obtained by an industrial fermentation process allowing the transformation of the sugar contained in these plants into alcohol.

This raw alcohol (ethanol) is then distilled and then dehydrated to obtain bioethanol.

Elsewhere in the world bioethanol can be obtained from other vegetable crops such as sugar cane which is mainly used.

World Ethanol Production

The United States and Brazil are the world's two major producers of ethanol. US Ethanol is produced from corn while Brazil use sugar cane to produce it. Brazil has registered a net drop in its production and is faced with a strong American policy in the development of its resources and the conquest of foreign markets. In France, production is increasing, driven by a sharp increase in the consumption of bio-fuels.

Alternatives to Corn and Sugar Cane Origin Ethanol

Beets have the advantage of offering an ethanol yield per hectare 2 to 3 times that of cereals. This first generation bioethanol does not have unanimous support because it is obtained from food resources. A second generation is being developed, based on agricultural (straw) or forestry (pruning) waste, for example, there are plans to use cellulose from fast-growing crops like poplar.

The advantages are numerous Greenhouse gas emissions are offset by that absorbed by plants during their growth. Our dependence on oil is reduced. This provides an additional outlet for agriculture. Waste recovery combines economic and environmental interests. Production, which is less polluting than refining petroleum, is local and therefore creates jobs.

Common Ethanol Fuel Mixtures and Types

Available at the pump under the name of E85, bio ethanol, also called super ethanol, is a fuel containing between 65 and 85% ethanol. The rest is made up of E10.

From the beginning of the 20th century, US motorcar manufacturer Ford designed its Ford Model T to operate with alcohol but quickly abandoned in favor of petroleum fuels

However, bio-ethanol has resurfaced in recent years, notably with the appearance of ethanol conversion kits.

Its advocates present it as a much cleaner fuel than petrol and diesel. It also costs significantly less, with a worldwide average selling price of 0.81 U.S. Dollar per liter.

Super Ethanol E85

E85 is a fuel composed of 65% to 85% of bioethanol with the remainder being gasoline E10. FlexFuel cars run on E85 Superethanol as well as all petrol fuels

SP95-E10 (also called E10)

SP95-E10 (also called E10) is a new lead-free fuel that can contain up to 10% bioethanol. The SP95-E10 has the advantage of producing less CO2 than regular gasoline (because this fuel contains 10% renewable energy) and being a little cheaper at the pump. All vehicles released after the year 2000 (with exceptions), as well as many vehicles before 2000, can use the SP95-E10.

Maximum amount of ethanol

SP95-E10: Up to 10%

E85 (or super fuel): Between 65 and 85%

Advantages and Benefits of using E85 Ethanol fuel

The main advantage of E85 fuel is its relatively lower price of around $0.7 per liter, a saving of almost 40% to 50% compared to E10.

Advocates of ethanol say it is significantly cleaner than gasoline. According to them, it would reduce fine particle emissions by around 90%. The same for net Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions which are reduced by 40%, Nitrogen oxide emissions are also reduced by 30%. E85 is therefore more ecological and more economical than petrol.

What Cars Run on Ethanol?

The question of whether it is possible to use this fuel without a kit arises logically in order to save the cost of the kit.

Basically Super-ethanol is designed to work with Flex fuel engines. The kits allows you to transform the classic petrol engine into a Flex fuel engine. However, it is possible to use ethanol without a kit with a non-Flex fuel engine.

This possibility depends on the vehicle model and its version. It's advisable to check with the manufacturer before trying to experiment with bio ethanol without a kit.

It seems that the majority of engines dating from after the 2000s are compatible with this fuel. However, it is sometimes recommended not to exceed a certain portion, supplementing the rest with E10.

What are the Risks of using Ethanol Fuel?

Risk of damage

In a car which is not compatible with super-ethanol, this fuel can lead to accelerated degradation of the engine and certain parts (filter, valves, etc.). The more ethanol is injected in high proportion compared to gasoline, the higher these risks are.

Guarantee cancellation

The use of bio ethanol in a vehicle not intended for this type of fuel may lead to the cancellation of the commercial warranty and the hidden defects warranty.

Reduced vehicle performance

Bio ethanol also tends to reduce vehicle performance. For example, the car takes longer for to start when the engine is still cold, as it does not tolerate negative temperatures…

How Cost-Effective is it?

Regarding ethanol's cost efficiency economy, you should know that super-ethanol leads to over-consumption of about 30% compared to gasoline. However, it remains economical in the long term, with a saving of around $400 per 10,000 km.

Is it really Ecological?

On the other hand, bio ethanol does not seem as clean as some people claim. Admittedly, it generates less pollution at the outlet of the exhaust, but the production of ethanol requires the use of very polluting chemicals, CO2-emitting machines, and large agricultural land requiring a high consumption of water. .

In short, the total energy balance of bio ethanol could be equivalent to or even worse than that of gasoline. Not to mention that it tends to drive up the price of raw materials such as beet, rapeseed, wheat or corn.


Biofuels are produced on an industrial scale and mainly made from raw materials also used for food purposes.

To limit competition with the food industry, mitigate soil degradation, and increase the availability of biofuels, the creation of other types of biofuels is under study. The main avenues currently being explored are:

Biofuels created from lignocellulosic biomass, i.e. agricultural waste, forest residues, wood, dedicated plants, etc. ;

Biofuels based on microorganisms, such as microalgae.

For the time being, the lignocellulosic biomass biofuel pathway is the most advanced in research. They are expected to enter the market in the coming years.