What is ethanol?
Availability and Cost
Safety and Performance
Government Programs and Regulations

What is ethanol?

Ethanol is a liquid alcohol made of oxygen, hydrogen and carbon and is obtained from the fermentation of sugar or converted starch contained in grains and other agricultural or agri-forest feedstocks. In Canada, ethanol is presently made principally from corn and wheat. Ethanol can be produced for different applications, for example, industrial ethanol or fuel grade ethanol. Research into technology to produce ethanol from non-food sources is advancing rapidly and is close to commercialization.

Fuel ethanol, which is sometimes referred to as “gasohol”, has been distilled and dehydrated to create a high-octane, water-free alcohol. All water must be removed because a water-alcohol mixture cannot dissolve in gasoline. Fuel ethanol is made unfit for drinking by adding a small amount of a noxious substance such as gasoline.

Ethanol is blended with gasoline to produce a fuel which has environmental advantages when compared with gasoline, and can be used in gasoline-powered vehicles manufactured since the 1980's. Most gasoline-powered vehicles can run on a blend consisting of gasoline and up to 10 percent ethanol, which is available at some regular service stations across Canada.

Some vehicles are specially manufactured to operate on an ethanol blend that contains up to 85 percent ethanol and at least 15 percent gasoline. (The 15 percent gasoline is needed to assist in engine starting because pure ethanol is difficult to ignite in cold weather.) This E-85 blend cannot be used in standard gasoline vehicles, however vehicles designed to run with a high ethanol blend can also operate using gasoline when necessary. E-85 is presently used by some organizations with large vehicle fleets and there are a few commercial stations offering E85 at their pumps.