Bioethanol: to health!

In the finale of the comedy “Features of National Fishing”, the characters of the film reluctantly pour all the vodka stockpiled in the submarine’s fuel tank, of course, for other pleasures. The satirical message is obvious - only in view of extreme need will our person decide to "translate the product" so mediocre ...

But, for example, in Brazil there are gas stations that pour pure alcohol into the tank. But for some reason, the line of Brazilian pedestrians with emaciated faces does not reach their pistols in the morning. Want to talk about it?

Brazilian magicians of the fuel industry “give out” from one hectare of tropical sun-burnt 7500 l of ethanol. This is a record for extracting alcohol from food raw materials. Another major producer of fuel bioethanol - the United States - is content with 3800 l / ha. The reason is that there is sugarcane in Brazil. When you look at its thick, fleshy stems, pinkish at the cut, you can imagine how the alcohol produced from it will burn appetizingly in the cylinders of a car engine. Americans extract ethanol from corn, but, despite more modest indicators, they are actively developing its production. In Europe, sugar beets produce 5500 l / ha, but production volumes are not yet comparable with Brazil or the United States.


The broad concept of "biofuels" includes a number of products obtained from the processing of various biological raw materials. This includes ethanol and methanol, butanol, biodiesel (from vegetable oils) and others. Biodiesel is not so relevant for Russia due to the fact that our country does not produce excessive amounts of vegetable oil, but fuel alcohol could have a future. First-generation bioethanol First-generation bioethanol is called alcohol obtained from edible plant materials: sugarcane, corn, sugar beets. The largest producers of this type of fuel are Brazil and the USA. In 2009, these two countries accounted for 89% of world production. In 2007, a Brazilian-American memorandum of understanding was signed, aimed at jointly developing standards for the use of biofuels and promoting the use of ethanol in the world. Second Generation Bioethanol Second generation bioethanol is the next step in the processing of biological raw materials. Its production uses wood pulp, straw, and less valuable agricultural crops. Butanol is a promising fuel. Butanol is a C4H5OH tetrahydric alcohol. It is a fuel with an energy density comparable to gasoline and not subject to excise taxes, but its production technology is still too expensive to compete with gasoline. Butanol's prospects are linked to the successes of chemists who are now creating cheaper enzymes for butanol production.

Why is bioethanol so good as a motor fuel? First, alcohol exhaust is much cleaner than gasoline. When burning ethanol, only two products are obtained: carbon dioxide and water, while in the gasoline exhaust there is sulfur dioxide and other unpleasant impurities. Secondly, burning oil, natural gas, coal, we release into the atmosphere carbon bound by organic remains millions of years ago, when an amount of carbon dioxide incomparable with the present was present in the air. That is, little by little we are returning the atmosphere to those stifling times. Burning vegetable alcohol only gives the air the amount of CO2 that was absorbed by cane, corn or beets during growth. Thirdly, bioethanol is a renewable resource, again unlike fossil fuels. And finally, oil is a very “political" product: a significant part of its production is concentrated in unstable regions. Potential raw materials for alcohol are growing almost everywhere - only sugar cane is cultivated in about a hundred states.

Friendship of gasoline with alcohol

In fact, pure alcohol is used almost exclusively in Brazil. In other countries (by the way, and in Brazil too), ethanol is mixed with gasoline in different proportions. Fuel containing ethanol is marked with the letter E and a number that indicates the percentage of alcohol content. For example, E10 is gasoline with a ten percent additive, E85 is ethanol with a fifteen percent gasoline content. Strictly speaking, E100 can be poured into a tank only in warm countries - ethanol has one significant drawback: at low temperatures, the engine for alcohol starts up poorly. The problem is solved by a very small (about 5%) additive of gasoline or a special mixture. In particular, in non-sunny Sweden, where alcohol has been used faithfully for a long time (since 1989), filling them with Scania city buses, a 5% additive removes all questions.

E10 standard motor fuels are common in the United States (ethanol may increase to 15% in winter), and E85 is used in some states. It would seem that the use of 10% alcohol in gasoline? It turns out that even such a small ethanol content in the fuel gives a 30% reduction in harmful substances in the car exhaust - the oxygen present in alcohol ensures complete combustion of the mixture. In this case, firstly, E10 - E15 can be poured into the tank of any gas-powered machine, and secondly, fuel consumption is practically not increased, since having a slightly lower energy density than gasoline, ethanol increases the octane number of the mixture, and therefore, the mixture can be burned with greater efficiency.

As for motor fuel with a high (up to 100%) ethanol content, only happy owners of Flexible Fuel cars (that is, with a choice of fuel) refuel it. In today's Brazil, up to 90% of such cars are already being sold, and others there soon seem to be gone. The benefit of Flexible Fuel technology does not require major and costly changes in the design of the car.

Do we need it?

But what about Russia? We have a lot of oil and gas and no juicy sugarcane. Our authorities, preoccupied with illicit trafficking in alcohol, see gas stations in a nightmare selling pure alcohol at the price of motor fuel. So do we need fuel ethanol?

“Yes, we need it, ” says Alexei Ablaev, president of the National Fuel Association of Russia, “and our interest in ethanol fuel has its own characteristics. If the United States is developing alternative energy in order to first of all reduce the economy’s dependence on imported oil, then our priority should be to reduce the content of harmful substances in car exhausts, and, very importantly, to create jobs and added value in domestic agriculture. ”

In those recent times when our country imported bread from the USA and Argentina, we often sadly recalled that the Russian Empire not only provided grain to itself, but also actively traded bread on the world market. Now there seems to be no reason for sadness, because Russia is again the largest producer and exporter of wheat. But not everything is so cloudless.

Into alcohol or rot?

“Last year, the wheat crop in Russia amounted to 108 million tons, ” continues Alexei Ablaev. “A year earlier, when everyone was frightened by the drought, the harvest amounted to 97 million tons. This year they are again talking about drought, and here, in addition to rational grounds, one can also see a certain PR aimed at selling the remnants of last year’s harvest. All our domestic consumption, including livestock and food, is now about 70 million tons. Last year, we sent a record 22 million tons for export. Neither the market nor the infrastructure (mainly ports) were allowed to take us out. Moreover, in order to increase sales, we would have to dump, which would ultimately drop world grain prices, and this is unprofitable for us. As a result, we have 92 million tons of domestic consumption and export. And the harvest is 108 million tons, that is, Russia chronically overproduces grain. Last year, approximately 10 million tons of harvested grain died. There was no place to store wheat, and it simply rotted in the pile on the ground. "

Particularly acute is the problem in continental areas far from seaports. Due to high transport tariffs and relatively small domestic demand, the price of Siberian grain fell to 1, 500 rubles, which was devastating for agriculture. per ton. So, if there were plants for processing wheat into ethanol in the grain-producing regions of the country, they would "eat" the excess grain, processing it into a product with high added value, which is easier to store and cheaper to transport. Yes, even with a crop of 50 centners per hectare, wheat can produce no more than 1, 200 liters per hectare, and we are far from Brazilian indicators, however, even in this case the energy balance of the fuel would be positive (the energy received would exceed the spent on production by about 20%) .

Sweet brazil

At the international forum Challenge Bibendum 2010, held under the auspices of the Michelin tire concern and dedicated to solving the environmental problems of vehicles, the ethanol topics - especially relevant for the host side - sounded at full strength. One of the forum participants was the Association of Brazilian Sugarcane Producers. The Association’s stand was provided with beautifully printed booklets, and everyone was shown a video about the success of ethanol production in the country. It turned out that sugar cane factories are very modern enterprises that produce not only ethanol, but also electricity through the burning of straw and cane meal (bagasse). But the reed harvest is far from mechanized everywhere - the proportion of manual labor is very high, and the poorest people are engaged in this difficult and dangerous (poisonous snakes are found in the reed). After 7 years, Brazil intends to abandon manual labor in reed harvesting, but it is unclear whether it will be possible to attach all the vacated hands. With figures and facts in their hands, industry representatives debunked the myths about Brazilian ethanol: they say he is guilty of rising food prices, he has a negative energy balance, because of it they cut down the Amazon jungle. However, it is known that biofuel is a tool for regulating the price of raw materials for Brazil. If the government believes that world sugar prices are too low, it raises the minimum ethanol content of gasoline. The more cane goes to ethanol, the less sugar becomes on the market. And prices are rising. America is doing the same with corn, but Russia is not yet able to adjust world grain prices using biofuels. But she could.

Ethanol and French Rolls

The very idea of ​​burning bread in internal combustion engines may seem blasphemous in a country where, not so long ago, it was customary for peasant families to pick up crumbs from the table with their hands and pour them into their mouths, but overproduction of grain poses a tough question: either reduce the sown area with clear socio-economic consequences, or the creation of an infrastructure for processing grain surpluses into something useful and non-perishable. For example, in bioethanol. But not only.

“Those who say that supporters of grain processing into bioethanol intend to convert a valuable food product to fuel are not quite right, ” explains Alexey Ablaev. “Our association defends the idea of ​​building deep processing plants in Russia for authorities of different levels - those that in the West are called biorefinery. The production technology is as follows: at the entrance, the grain is divided into components - starch in one direction, wheat gluten (gluten) in the other, and grain shells in the third. Wheat gluten is an incredibly valuable food product that is now sold in Russia at? 2 per 1 kg, and in the EU at? 1.5. She goes to food, for example, makes French rolls French rolls with elastic crumb and Italian pasta Italian pasta that does not blur when cooking. Gluten improves bad flour by making it sticky. The demand for gluten is unlimited, including for export, almost three years in advance. Shells of grain go to feed. And only starch is processed into glucose, and that goes to fermentation (fermentation). Next, ethanol is obtained using conventional distillation columns. Its total share in the plant’s products will not exceed 30–50%. By the way, in the same factories glucose can be processed not into ethanol, but into other products - butanol, bioplastics, feed additives. ”

The only such plant in the CIS is located in Kazakhstan and is called "Biochem." The company consumes 300, 000 tons of wheat per year. In Europe there are similar plants with a capacity of 1 million tons. They regularly guarantee farmers grain prices, provide jobs, and replenish regional budgets. But in Russia, the prospects for such a business are still vague. The reason is known to everyone - the Russian state imposed excise duties on ethanol for any purpose, and filling the tank with this fuel is like (recall Mendeleev) burning bills in a furnace. Yes, Brazilians do not go hangover at gas stations, apparently sincerely believing that drinks are sold in other places, but the harmful traditions of the alcohol-dependent part of the population of our country force lawmakers to erect barriers to fuel alcohol.

Hydrolysis juice

Contrary to the claims of the hero of the song, Vladimir Vysotsky, they did not drive vodka from sawdust in the USSR, although alcohol can be obtained from cellulose. Cellulose - these are the same sugars as in starch or sugar beets - they are simply connected in chains of polysaccharides by different bundles, because nature created cellulose precisely as a structural material. There is a technology that allows you to break these ligaments and get individual sugars by hydrolysis. Further, the sugars are fermented and rectified according to the usual ethanol production procedure. The hydrolysis alcohol formula doesn’t differ in any way from the ethanol formula from food raw materials - impurities can vary during poor cleaning, and although alcohol from sawdust was officially used in industry as industrial alcohol, paraphrase on the theme of the famous Soviet song was common in certain circles: “And the Motherland generously watered me with hydrolysis juice, hydrolysis juice ... ". Meanwhile, alcohol obtained from cellulose (sawdust, straw, etc.) is considered a promising fuel, second-generation bioethanol, which does not require food raw materials in the production. And for Russia, with its colossal timber reserves, this topic is very relevant. One problem is that the existing technologies for the production of hydrolysis alcohol in the USSR make it too expensive for burning in engines. New generation plants that produce alcohol from biomass and use cheaper enzymes are being built today, for example, in the USA. However, even this new industry, like other areas of alternative energy, is subsidized by the American government. With the existence of a developed market for corn bioethanol, the American market will gradually master hydrolysis alcohol.

Add bitterness

Those who dream of creating the Russian market of motor ethanol can only hope that one day the authorities will change their point of view, especially in view of the overproduction of wheat. The main argument here may be a system of measures that ensures that alcohol from gas stations will be used exclusively for its intended purpose.

“We have proposed these measures and will continue to offer them, ” says Alexey Ablaev. - Firstly, we are in favor of hard denaturing of alcohol, that is, adding substances to it that exclude the use of fuel inside. The main option is mixing with gasoline. It is worth adding only 5% of gasoline, and it will be impossible to drink this muck. Well, you can pour water into the fuel, and water with dissolved alcohol will float over gasoline, but even then the repulsive smell will not go anywhere. Another option is to add a substance called bitrex to ethanol. An insignificant bitrex content in the fuel is enough to cause an instant gag reflex in an individual when trying to drink alcohol. This is a very bitter and unpleasant substance. Secondly, plants for the production of bioethanol fuel will be 5-10 times larger than most of the current distilleries. It is easier to organize control at such enterprises, and it would be unprofitable for the owner of such a large business to engage in frauds with excisable alcohol - he could lose everything. Thirdly, in order for alcohol to be edible, the plant needs four to five distillation distillation columns — otherwise, do not remove all fusel oils. Two is enough for fuel. The output alcohol will turn out with a yellow moonshine, and high-quality vodka cannot be made from it. That is possible, but the energy costs of additional cleaning will make this business unprofitable. ”

The article was published in the journal Popular Mechanics (No. 9, September 2010).


Bubble of silence: how to protect yourself from noise
10 cars from Romania: what did Dracula ride
Honda Lawnmower sets new speed record