Ethanol: How the Fuel is Produced, Growing Corn and Other Feedstocks, and More
Ethanol in Brazil: all about sugar cane
In warmer climes, different feedstocks with different energy yields are used. In Brazil, sugar cane is the crop of choice (pictured above), and it provides about 18 percent of the country's automotive fuel. Sugar cane produces nearly double the yield per acre of corn (between 570 - 700), and offers a reduction of 87% - 96% in greenhouse gas emissions when compared to gasoline. Almost 50% of Brazilian cars on the road today are able to use 100% ethanol as fuel, that includes ethanol-only engines and flex fuel engines.
Ethanol's advantages and disadvantages
Proponents of the fuel argue that it's an important step away from petroleum, and offers to help increase national security because it can be produced locally. Ethanol's detractors point to blends above E10's incompatibility with many gasoline engines, and some signs of increased wear and tear on some internal parts, especially rubber hoses and gaskets. Further, whether the energy balance of ethanol -- whether the fuel contains more energy than was used to produce it -- is positive or negative is debatable, as is whether or not the land used to grow the crop was obtained by, say, chopping down a rainforest, in which case the ethanol produced is just as unenvironmentally-friendly as fossil fuel due to the carbon released by the dead plants.
Still, since we're currently still using these "first generation" biofuels, there is huge potential in other feedstocks and methods. Read on for more about cellulosic ethanol.