Have you ever stopped to think about the science that goes behind the gasoline that drives your car? If you’re anything like me- gears, engines, and any sort of chemistry don’t make the slightest bit of sense. When I go to the gas station, I swipe my card to get my ‘fuel points’, then always get the gas that is the cheapest. But, I’ve never really sat and thought about what makes up gasoline. How does this make my car run?

We’ll start simple. Corn is fermented to create a gasoline mixture. This is called ethanol. Most gasoline is made of 10% ethanol, and the majority of US cars can run on this amount. But, some cars are now being produced that can run on 100% ethanol fuel, which is better for the environment and uses less energy. Ethanol is a renewable source, unlike regular gasoline.

PEMBROKE PINES, FL – NOVEMBER 15: Gas pumps with a sign indicating the gas is containing up to 10 % ethanol are seen at Victory gas station on November 15, 2013 in Pembroke Pines, Florida. Today, the federal Environmental Protection Agency announced a proposal to ease an annual requirement for ethanol in gasoline. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Ethanol is also known to have high amounts of octane. Octane is the power that makes your car go. The more octane you have, the more power there is for your car to run. Higher blends of ethanol offer more octane for the same amount of money. The Department of Energy states that having higher octane fuels are required for larger engines or ones that use more force.

The oil companies obviously want you to pay the ‘big dollars’ for high-dollar ‘aromatics’, which is a petroleum-based synthetic octane enhancer. They increase the octane, but are extremely harmful to the environment and are very expensive.

But, this is why we have ethanol.

The higher the ethanol content in your gasoline, the higher the amount of octane you have. This increases the power in your car, while also helping the environment. If car manufacturer increases the engine capacity of cars to be able to handle more ethanol content in cars, this can really help our environment. We can stop unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions and increase the efficiency levels in our vehicles.

This only goes to show that agriculture really does “drive” everything forward. Ethanol is cheaper than gasoline, so why not try to produce more vehicles that have the capacity to not only help the environment but help us save some money at the pump every week.

Ashley Hauptman
Illinois State University

One thought on “ETHANOL & YOUR CAR: A PRIMER”

  1. First of all, I would like to say that I am a farmer, my family only grows corn and soybeans. Also, I am a mechanic so I do know how cars run and I am very much into alternative energy. However, I do it agree with you’r article. First off, yes, octane rating has a little to do with making power, but not as much as you may think. Octane rating is primarily an antiknock rating so you don’t here your engine making so much noise. Second, ethanol does not create more power in you’r car. Using ethanol in a car reduces the mileage you can drive on a single tank compared to gasoline, thus requiring you to fill up more often and essentially costing more or the same as using gasoline. Third, the process of creating ethanol is highly inefficient. It takes 131000 BTU to make 1 gallon of ethanol, but that gallon can only create 77000 BTU worth of energy. This is the article that I retrieved this information from.
    Lastly, because of the production of
    Ethanol, less of our crop is being used to feed the population, and has also contributed to food prices rising for products using corn. I do understand that ethanol produces less harmfull emissions than gasoline, however I do not believe that ethanol is the smartest way to go.

Leave a Reply