Ethanol? We don’t need no stinkin’ ethanol!

UPDATE below.


Some whispers came my way a while ago:

When Saab Australia brought a Biopower vehicle to an environment conference in Sydney a month ago, they received a phone call from a non-disclosed (to me) government official. The caller’s department ‘threatened’ that any Biopower cars brought into Australia for field testing and evaluation would have their registration restricted to they could only be driven on public roads by GM employees.

No press evaluation and no government evaluation = going nowhere. That ‘threat’ was rather quickly removed by said not-disclosed official after being reminded how rediculous such a move would look on the front page of the papers.

That’s just one example of how our current government thinks on the evolution of alternative fuels.

Here’s another…….

Australian Treasurer Peter Costello says that we must reduce our reliance on foreign oil:

“I think we’ve got to reduce our (oil) reliance but that’s going to take a long time…”

Australian Treasurer Peter Costello expands on his thoughts about using oil:

“What we’ve go to do is encourage the supply countries to lift supply, have more investment because when you get a big country like China sucking up oil production, then that means it affects the whole world price.”

These two quotes are from the same article, from an interview Mr Costello did on Macquarie Radio this morning.

We have to reduce our oil reliance but it’s going to take a long time, so in the meantime let’s ramp up production and make it cheaper.

Makes perfect sense.

Mr Costello might like to take a look at the Swedish initiative with Biofuels and consider further the thoughts of Saab UK Jonathan Nash and his calls for some real leadership from Tony Blair on the issue.

Then again, leadership’s not Mr Costello’s strong suit. Just ask his boss.



A fuller version of the article above has now been published.

In this version, while Mr Costello is doing his sleight of hand routine, the Australian Trade Minister, Mr Mark Vaile, is in Vietnam promoting ethanol as an alternative to regular fossil fuels.

It’s a bit of a joke really. On one hand, the Trade Minister is talking up ethanol, yet he’s also saying that they won’t mandate it or use legislation to get encourage people to use it. Basically, they’ve permitted it – and that’s it.

And get this. I think he expects a pat on the back too…..

Mr Vaile has said member countries’ energy ministers will meet in Darwin in May 2007 to discuss biofuels. The next APEC summit will be held later that year in Sydney.

Commonwealth cars ferrying around APEC leaders during their Australian stay will all use ethanol-blended fuel whenever available, he has said.


We’ll actually ferry APEC leaders around for an entire 3 or 4 days in cars running on fuel that’s 10% ethanol (where available).

Mr Vaile – you’re a friggin hero!!


Seriously, no-one really wants a legislative stick saying “you must use ethanol”. What the government could do – to help make our envirofootprint smaller, to help a fledgling ethanol industry as well as an ageing and struggling sugarcane industry – is provide incentives for doing the right thing.

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  1. I have nothing but loathing for the Australian Government and their ignorance of any project that might possibly fail. If they can’t see a guarantee that it will turn a profit, and from there a way they can tax it, they are not interested. Australia has a large, but struggling sugar cane industry, the waste products from which could easily be used to generate bio-ethanol. Regulated correctly, this could save many sugar cane farmers that are relying on government handouts because CSR do not pay them enough for cane. Peter Costello himself should be able to do the simple math. Stop paying farmers yourself, build an industray for them to thrive, take some credit for it, earn yourself some respect and save the environment! If I were him i’d be all over this in seconds!

  2. cockspank is more appropriate a label for the entire current government… 😉

    while i agree forcing stuff down people’s throats isn’t a smart approach, the only way to get critical mass is through government incentives; no or lower tax, cheaper rego, parking/access incentives, business credits, and so on. Sweden proves it can work.

    Australia has so much to benefit from biodiesel and bioethanol production. not only do we have a struggling sugar cane industry able to help kickstart production, but we also have vast amounts of farmland increasingly unable to support inappropriate crops or stock through this drought… if what i’ve read and been told is correct, there are quite a few biomass and plant oil crop species, like switchgrass, that survive and thrive in quite arid environments. one species whose name escapes my mind right now is such a voracious consumer of CO2 from the air that it puts most of it back into the soil, essentially fertilising the soil it’s rooted in.

    for years bad farming practices and the drought cycle have resulted in cleared empty fields which in turn suffer top soil loss, erosion and rising salt tables, killing the land of any ability to sustain crops ever again.

    imagine a range of plants which don’t require vast amounts of water or fertilisers/chemicals to grow, which both hold the soil together preventing erosion and enrich it with C02. imagine farmer’s rotating between traditional and biomass crops, using the latter to repair and recharge their fields, keeping them productive. imagine successive biomass crops turning once ‘dead’ fields into arable land again.

    now imagine farmers and producers operating under a self sufficiency fuel model, where part of the biodiesel crop is retained to create biodiesel to run the machinery, tractors, etc. on each farm or locality. imagine if the trucks that take spent biodiesel feedstock and dedicated ethanol biomass to the refineries ran on biodiesel too? suddenly the biofuel industry’s CO2 balance goes from occasionally questionable to overwhelmingly in its favour.

    imagine if Australia had the ability to produce more fuel than it needed to supply local requirements? it’s not an unreasonable thought – we have a lot of borderline farmland available. imagine if Australia became a net exporter of biofuel. imagine if our struggling farmers suddenly had the ability to produce an in demand cash crop that doesn’t need consume excessive amounts of water nor displaces food crops from prime agricultural land. imagine the jobs created in rural areas, the wealth that could be created.

    now, as my girlfriend tells me all too often, i’m very good at imagining stuff and our government seems to have something of an issue with it. while it would be easy to dismiss that the lads in power are just thick in ignoring the issue while handing out $2,000 cheques so people can convert from one fossil fuel to another (LPG) and reinvigorating the nuclear issue because wind power kills parrots, i wouldn’t. they’re smarter than that – after all, they got elected 4 times in a row, despite the fact we don’t trust them as far as we can throw them.

    for those who have seen “Who Killed The Electric Car”, the answer is apparent. if you haven’t seen it yet, may i strongly suggest you make every effort to see it.

    simply put, the multi-squillion dollar oil industry has a vested interest in keeping us on oil for as long as they can supply it. while anyone with a vague interest in world politics knows that the US Government is virtually controlled by big business interests, don’t be so naive as to believe this kind of underhanded manipulation doesn’t go on here in Australia either.

    ok, ranting and conspiracy theories over. to summarise:

    Petroleum fuels = bad
    Biofuels = good
    Erosion = bad
    Farmers growing switchgrass = good
    Biodiesel tractors and trucks = good
    Australian Government = bad
    Oil industry = really bad
    “Who Killed The Electric Car” = good
    BioPower Saabs = very good

  3. Ethanol as primary fuel: smoke and mirrors.

    Ethanol CONSUMES a great deal of energy just to become ethanol from a plant-based feedstock. Strike one.

    Ethanol cannot be distributed in the infrastructure for gasoline, which is 50+ years in the making. HUGE costs in duplicating that infrastructure. I’m talking tens of thousands of American dollars for each car on the road. Strike two.

    Greenhouse gas and acid gas emissions actually go UP a little — of course that’s counterbalanced by the additional crop growth overall, but in cities that’s little relief. Strike three.

    I think that ethanol as an internal combustion fuel is a short-term thing and is a dramatic waste of time and resources in the meantime.

    Biodiesel makes much more sense. Fuel cells make much more sense. Electric cars (and plug-in hybrids) make much more sense.

    I’m not feeling it. I’m just not.

  4. unfortunately everything you just said applies to hydrogen too, and to an even greater extent. the difference is that whereas remotely affordable hydrogen cells and fuel production is a 10-20 year wait, my car could be running on ethanol – produced within this country – by this afternoon with a few minor modifications.

    ethanol mightn’t be the golden solution to our energy woes, and in fact i don’t believe ANY single fuel source will be, but it is a renewable fuel we can be using TODAY. i don’t want to wait 10-20 years and i really don’t believe the world can wait either.

    the simple fact is ethanol is an easier fuel to shift the driving public into, because we’d able to still get the kind of 400-600km ranges we’re used to and believe we need, and the vast majority of our existing vehicles won’t have to be rendered obsolete. at the moment hydrogen-celled cars are million-dollar propositions, and while the cars themselves emit only water the vast energy required to produce and contain the hydrogen is something like 3-4 times greater than the resultant amount can produce.

    battery electric technology has come a long way. the range is more or less there now with Li-Ion/Li-Po, but unfortunately without mass production the cost is currently prohibitive, which is stalling uptake… a real chicken-and-egg scenario. hopefully the plugin hybrid vehicle sector will be the trojan horse that will help grow the vehicle battery market; people will eventually realise that they can get away with electric-only in the city. the two-car family garage will contain one pure electric for local use, and one hybrid for the longer journeys.

    with that in mind, i really think Saab utterly nailed the near-future with the BioPower Hybrid. I’m not talking about Mr Miyagi hammer technique, I mean big nail gun action. it’s only flaw is that fact i can’t run up the road and buy one from Motors now.

    whether or not ethanol makes economic sense at the moment depends largely on who’s numbers you look at – the variance is huge and indeed pretty frustrating. one thing that can be certain is that the production technology and technique is rapidly improving. i agree that distilling food feedstocks in a world where a billion people are starving is insane, but the shift from starch to cellulostic distillation will shift demand to non-edible feedstock. proper closed loop production will minimise the requirement for non-renewable energy for production, if not completely, and ensure the CO2 balance is well into the positive.

    all that is required is some government intervention, to give investors the security to grow the industry, to give consumers to take notice and encourage its uptake, and to prevent the oil industry from derailing the whole process.

    forgive the evangelising, but i find it discouraging and irrational that the whole renewable fuel scene is so full of infighting and squabbling from all sides stating theirs is The Golden Solution. Clearly people have vested interests and that’s fine for those putting their money where their mouth is and trying to get ventures off the ground, but ultimately it’s going to be a combination of various different fuels and technologies that progresses us away from oil and polluting the planet.

    hopefully one day hydrogen will deliver on its promises, but today, ethanol is one option that can be made to work. we’d be foolish not to try.

    pizza = good.

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