What is Corn Ethanol?
Corn ethanol is a colorless liquid that is made through the fermentation of starches and sugars found in corn. Fermentation is when microorganisms produce alcohol during their metabolism process when oxygen is not present in the environment. This process is generally done by yeast, however there are other organisms that can accomplish it.
It is very easy to convert the sugars from corn into ethanol. The steps include:
- Grinding the corn
- Cooking the corn with enzymes to release the starch and sugar
- Fermentation with yeast
- Distillation to remove excess water
- Molecular sieving to ensure all of the water is removed
- Denaturation (breakdown of proteins) to make the ethanol unsafe to drink
Corn Ethanol and Biofuel
Corn ethanol is commonly used as a biofuel. A biofuel is a transportation fuel that is made from natural biomass materials. Think of transportation fluids as gasoline and diesel, now mix the gasoline or the diesel with corn ethanol. Now you have a biofuel! It is most common to see biofuels as 10% corn ethanol and 90% gasoline.
Biofuels, particularly those that utilize corn ethanol have been found to reduce the carbon footprint made when they are consumed by decreasing the level of greenhouse gases emitted. The United States Department of Energy completed a study that showed a 23% reduction in chlorine emissions while this was being used more and more often.
While corn is easy to grow, easy to obtain, easy to convert into ethanol, and has lower emissions, there are some downsides to using corn ethanol as a biofuel. Due to the need to farm for corn, the need for land to grow this corn, there is an increased cost associated with the use of biofuel. Additionally, there are some environmental issues posed by biofuels despite their depiction as an ecofriendly option. Erosion of topsoil and polluted streams and rivers from the silt has been a result of the farming of corn. With farming, there comes pesticides which contaminate surface and ground water. These concerns need to be addressed in order for this to truly become a biofuel.