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A Strange Twist on Alternative Fuels

Hydrogen fuel is not yet perfected for cars, but ethanol (made from corn) is already being used in some places. The latest news about hydrogen is that it has been successfully used to power a small drone airplane of the type now being used by US forces in the Middle East. The latest news about ethanol is that you may someday be able to DRINK the contents of your gas tank?but why would you want to?

In LiveScience.com, Sara Goudarzi quotes engineer Adam Broughton, who invented the hydrogen drone, as saying, "We're saying to the world that this is a viable power solution." However, you?ll hear a lot more about using ethanol as an alternative fuel than hydrogen, because ethanol is made from corn and the US has a huge corn surplus. It turns out that the type of ethanol that is made into fuel can be converted cheaply and quickly into the purer, cleaner alcohol that goes into alcoholic drinks (as is also found in cough medicine and mouth wash). This brings up visions of driving to the bar to meet your friends and when you're there, drinking the contents of your engine while you?re in the parking lot.

However, the ethanol that will power your car is not drinking quality. Iowa State agriculture professor Jacek Koziel is trying to develop a way to purify and remove the bad-tasting components from ethanol fuel. Since we grow much more corn than we need, it?s hard to figure out why researchers feel the need to figure out how to recycle ethanol in this way. One of the great things about both hydrogen and ethanol is that they reduce greenhouse gas emissions because burning them releases mainly water vapor (although burning ethanol also releases carbon dioxide, just like fossil fuel does).

In the future, will Dad and the guys will drink up all the fuel while watching the Superbowl so Mom won't be able to drive to work in the morning? Will the "designated driver" of the future be the one who doesn?t drain his gas tank, so he?ll have enough fuel left to drive everyone home?

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Photo credit: Credit: Georgia Tech/Gary Meek

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