August 17, 2006

Beattie promises alcohol for all

According to this Australian article Peter Beattie has today promised to require all petroleum refiners in Queensland to produce only petrol with 5 percent ethanol. It's like Catch 22 - he can't make us buy it, but he can ensure it's the only product available.

This has got to be one of the most ludicrous policies I have seen in a long time. I'm not exactly sure what percentage of the nation's petroleum is refined in Queensland, but if you assumed it was enough for the Queensland market where is all the ethanol going to come from?

To put this in perspective. Beattie claims that it will involve consumption of 200 million litres a year of ethanol. But an Australian Parliamentary Library paper from 2003 says that Australia's total production is only 135 million litres a year. Where is the extra refining capacity, let alone supply capacity, going to come from?

Are we going to import it from Brazil? Or is Beattie going to relax his tree-clearing legislation so that we can clear more land to grow sugar cane to produce it? And has anyone factored in how much water growing the sugar cane is going to take (just at a time when we've realised there's barely enough to go around)? And what about the flow-on effects for the price of products using sugar, and grain crops that can be substituted for it?

Of course, he's likely to get away with this because the Oppposition still can't work out that elections are won by the party having the largest number of seats; and journalists are generally so dim, that asking really hard questions in a press conference when the media release in their hands is still warm from the photocopier is just a bit beyond them.

And it is obviously targeted at buying off the Green vote, alienated by Beattie's need to build some dams to deal with the water shortages.

Posted by Graham at August 17, 2006 10:46 PM

Couple of points:
1. You burn more fuel to make ethanol than the energy you get from it. Comes from ploughing, harvesting etc.
2. Ethanol plants produce toxic waste. Ethanol is a by product.
3. Engines running on ethanol alone could be more efficient than diesel. Ethanol doesn't pre-ignite, so you can run very high compression. That's why diesels are so efficient.

Posted by: scott at August 19, 2006 07:54 AM

Hi, if this inane policy is targeted at the green vote he had better think again.

from the NSW greens latest newsletter..

rising petrol prices have finally ignited a long-overdue public
>>> debate about the future of transport fuels. Predictably both the
>>> Coalition and Labor have focused on natural gas and ethanol. However
>>> given the massive qualities of petroleum currently consumed by
>>> private motor vehicles in Australia, it is unlikely that either gas
>>> or ethanol could replace petrol without unacceptable environmental
>>> and economic consequences. Leaders of the old parties seem to be in
>>> denial. They are refusing to acknowledge the looming decline in oil
>>> well production and the need to make a transition to a
>>> post-petroleum
> age.
>>> The Greens continue to campaign for quality public transport and to
>>> reserve scarce liquid fuels for food production and for rural and
>>> remote communities for which public transport is not an option.
>>> While this is not an immediately popular message with many people,
>>> it is an important contribution to a debate that has been captured
>>> by quick fixes and denial.

Posted by: Mark W at August 19, 2006 01:49 AM

I think there is another couple of dynamics that have yet to have their presence felt. Firstly, the use of ethanol-blended petrol tends to lead to slightly increased fuel consumption, perhaps cancelling out the benefit in terms of $ per km.

Second, a very large proportion of the private vehicle fleet is old - vehicles not designed for such blended fuels. A boon for mechanics perhaps?

Also, where is the conversation about ethanol emissions from combustion engines. I am happy to be corrected, but it is my hazy understanding that emission from ethanol-based fuels are quite dangerous.

Finally, by how much will the blending bring down fuel prices? I cannot it being anything substantial. Any reduction of less than 7-10 cents per litre would outweigh the benefits.

I'm left with a nasty feeling that the ALP is selling us a pup. I mean, where is the debate about full production of true biofuels (diesel *and* petrol)?

Posted by: Andrew at August 18, 2006 05:56 PM
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