Ethanol: Don’t get fueled by John Howard!
Friday October 06th 2006, 11:10 am

don't be fuelish!

Knowing they’re in deep shit over petrol prices ahead of the 2007 elections, the Howard Government is pushing alternative motor fuels.

About the smartest thing they’ve done so far is to offer a $2000 subsidy towards converting existing petrol-powered vehicles to LPG, even though the waiting list for LPG conversions has blown out to more than 18 months at this moment… and yes, my old car (worth $1500) is on the waiting list!

However, Howard and Co. are also heavily pushing ethanol-blended petrol motor fuels.

Doubleplus bad idea.

The only people who will benefit from ethanol fuels are sugar cane farmers, the government itself through excise taxes and John Howard’s mates. Howard has a significant and controversial political relationship with Dick Honan, the owner of Manildra, Australia’s largest producer of ethanol.

John Howard has lied in the past about his contacts with Honan, failing to disclose his relationship with Honan before introducing plans in Parliament to mix ethanol in the nation’s petrol supply. If ethanol was so good for Australian motor fuels users, you wouldn’t think Howard would have to gild the lily- but ethanol only seems to be good for Howard cronies, the sugar producers’ lobby and government tax coffers.

Ethanol blended fuels are unsuitable for vehicles which do not have fuel systems designed to tolerate the corrosive nature of the fuel. Ethanol dissolves certain plastics and causes rubber parts to dry-rot and crack, creating the possibility of fuel leaks- and underbonnet engine fires. Ethanol can also etch aluminium parts, damaging fuel metering and injector parts.

If a vehicle has been specifically designed for ethanol fuels with ethanol resistant fuel system parts, this isn’t a problem, but the average car in Australia is more than 10 years old. Even “E-10” or petrol mixed with only 10% ethanol is not a suitable fuel for older vehicles. Unlike petrol, ethanol also readily mixes with water, adding the possibility of rust on steel parts in the fuel system, including most fuel tanks, contributing to the potential for clogged fuel filters.

Worst, the Howard Government doesn’t think it’s all that important to mandate ethanol content labelling on fuel bowsers. What you don’t know CAN hurt you!

Even in vehicles designed for it, ethanol is a bad fuel choice from a number of perspectives. Ethanol is technically a renewable fuel as it is made from fermented and distilled vegetable biomass materials such as sugar cane, wheat or corn. However, ethanol requires much more energy to produce than is recovered by burning the fuel; ethanol production requires SIX units of energy to produce ONE unit of energy through burning the fuel.

Ethanol yields only 50% of the thermal output of petrol. A car running on 100% ethanol would use 20 litres to cover the same distance as travelled on 10 litres of regular unleaded petrol. Thus, E-10 fuel, mixed with 10% ethanol, only yields 95% of the thermal output per litre as plain petrol. Because of the lower thermal energy output, autombiles using E-10 will get 5% poorer fuel economy, meaning cars will use 5% more fuel to cover a given distance compared to plain petrol.

If E-10 were priced lower to compensate for the poorer fuel economy, that would be one thing, but E-10 prices at the bowser are the mostly the same as regular unleaded. Further, drivers will buy more litres of E-10 but will pay the same excise tax per litre as unleaded petrol. Consumers are doing themselves absolutely no favours buying E-10 for the same price as unleaded.

Ethanol requires significant amounts of fossil fuels simply to produce it. Fossil diesel and petrol are used extensively in farming and transportation equipment. Natural gas from Australia’s vast reserves (some of the largest in the world) is burned in vast quantity in the distillation process.Ethanol's a GREEN fuel, hey?

The amount of ethanol produced in Australia is a very small fraction of that required to replace 10% of the petrol used in the country. To meet the Howard Government’s target of 10% ethanol in all petrol, huge amounts of ethanol would have to be imported from large ethanol producing nations like Brazil.

It is far more efficient to burn compressed natural gas (CNG, primarily methane) directly in motor vehicles than to use it to distill ethanol to then burn in vehicles. Methane also naturally occurs as a decomposition product from rubbish landfills and can also be produced by collecting and concentrating off-gases from other wastes like farm animal droppings. The local tip and cattle feedlots would be excellent places to ‘drill’ for methane, recovering energy that would not only otherwise be wasted, but when released into the atmosphere, as such ‘waste’ gases mostly are at present, contribute to global warming. Australia has some of the largest reserves of natural gas on the planet and completely untapped reserves of landfill methane.

Ethanol can not be used at all in diesel engines, but new gaseous fuel supplementary systems are now available for diesel cars and trucks. A supplementary system for diesels from U.S. Energy Initiatives Corporation injects LPG or CNG after the diesel engine has been started, displacing up to 80% of diesel fuel with gas. The increased combustion temperatures reduce diesel engine emissions dramatically as well as reduces use of fossil-based diesel fuel. In concert with biodiesel, emissions can be cut by 20-50%, all while using existing diesel engined vehicles.

LPG and CNG burn up to 80% cleaner than petrol and diesel. Engines which have been run on gaseous fuels last significantly longer and require fewer engine oil changes. Used oil in petrol and diesel engines turns black from particulate soot matter blown past the piston rings. LPG engine oil goes a bit honey coloured but contains none of the abrasive carbon soot, significantly reducing engine wear.

Establishing a broader network of gaseous fuel service stations in Australia will also set the stage for implementation of fuel-cell powered electric vehicles which can run on LPG, CNG or hydrogen. Electric vehicles can also be recharged from photovoltaic solar panels or the existing AC power mains. Even if recharging from the coal-fired mains, electricity generated on large scale releases much less pollution and greenhouse gases per kilowatt-hour than that generated by small-scale means.

Remind John Howard at the 2007 polls that fat deals for his mates are not welcome in your fuel tank!


13 Comments so far
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I’m unsure of this subsidy thing Weez. As I understand it you will get $2000 towards the cost of converting your car to LPG.

How much will your contribution need to be above that amount to get it done?

Comment by suki 10.07.06 @ 7:42 am

I haven’t priced out the work yet, Suki, but I understand that I can get 2nd hand LP conversions installed… and thus might even turn a profit. This of course, unless all LPG conversion installers have raised their prices to a minimum of $2001 since the Dear Lying Rodent made the LPG bribery move.

I still find truckloads of humour in the fact that I’m having a ~$2000 LPG kit installed on a $1500 car.

Comment by weez 10.07.06 @ 7:50 am

I always thought it was funny that the Government had poured so much into Manildra until I went to visit family in Gunnedah, NSW. There’s so much Manildra infrastructure there it’s hard to take a walk without seeing some of it.

And guess who’s electorate Gunnedah was in? (I say was as it’s changing for the next election)

Yep, John Anderson, former National Party leader and former Deputy PM. Nothing to do with keeping him in there? Of course, this is all just speculation…

Comment by Evan 10.07.06 @ 9:39 am

Weez, I think the real issues here – is that it’s the wrong fuel … ethanol is not the answer and nor is LPG, that’s a petrol product. CNG propels Sydney’s gas buses. All our motor bikes, lawnmowers, diesel locomotives, truck and buses should be running on CNG, compressed natural gas.

I am in India at the moment – there are 10,300 gas buses, 55,000 tuc-tucs (3 wheeler taxis), 5000 people movers (minibuses), 10,000 taxis (based on the old Morris Oxford), 10,000 CNG hire and private cars PLUS nealy all of the 100,000 motor bikes in Delhi run on CNG. All in less than 5 years. So, it can’t be hard. Just my view.

Comment by Boondoggler 10.07.06 @ 2:15 pm

You’re right- about a third of Sydney buses do run on CNG.

Gaseous fuel systems these days can automatically adjust for petroleum-based LPG or methane-based CNG, which could be good for consumers in the near term. Pricing competition may be encouraged between the commodities.

CNG is the greenest gas- if it is sourced from renewables or waste. Saw a program not long back where a town in Brazil had tapped the methane gas from their rubbish tip and used it to run an electric generation plant which supplies a small nearby town.

Australia has the largest reserves in the world of natural gas for CNG. Good story about a council which took up CNG on the 7:30 Report not long back.

Comment by weez 10.07.06 @ 3:23 pm

Hey, this is kinda cool: “Phill” is a device which connects to your natural gas line and compresses it into a natural gas vehicle’s tank, all while parked in your garage at home.

The one downside I’m noticing about CNG is the high tank pressure, on the order of 3000-3600psi as opposed to 120-175psi for LPG.

Comment by weez 10.07.06 @ 3:58 pm

“Commonsense” doesn’t seem to be high on the priority list for Howard’s government.

Comment by Davo 10.08.06 @ 10:03 am

Davo, that’s definitely something to consider come election day… provided you actually are notified that elections have been called by what remains of Australian mainstream media post the Howardisation of cross-media ownership rules.

Comment by weez 10.13.06 @ 9:49 am

You did a lot of research in writing this article. Great job!

There is not much positive said about ethanol here, but it does work for the people in Brazil. That came with a lot of government assistance though. We certainly need to do something.

Comment by Ethanol 11.09.06 @ 7:40 am

Thanks for that.

Ethanol may appear to work for the Brazilians, but it’s not a sustainable fuel unless you could use solar power to distill the ethanol. Ethanol is cleaner burning than petrol or diesel, but it’s just not a good fuel choice unless the problem of consumption of fossil fuels in production is solved.

Comment by weez 11.09.06 @ 8:33 am

a friend of mine got a lpg ford falcon as a company car and she is lucky to get 430 km on a tank of gas and i have noticed that they don’t have much get up and go and she saids that she doesn’t benafet the cost diffrence gas and petrol and she had a vy commerdore and she got twice the distence and i also spoke to a taxi driver that his own taxi here in brisbane and he drove a ford falcon and he used just unleaded petrol and he said he wouldn’t convert a car to run on gas because if you do the same distence on a gas car but fill up twice at 56 cents per litre you don’t save nothing at all you would be better off using a diesel car. if you have a car that you want to put on gas don’t wast your money to do it and you are better off leaving it alone and my friend with the ford falcon that is uses lpg she gets around 20 litres per 100 km and the petrol version gets 8 to 9 litres per 100 km and myself drives a diesel 4wd and get better fuel econamany

Comment by sean 09.21.10 @ 9:58 am

If a petrol car converted to LPG is consuming more than 20% more litres per 100km on LPG as opposed to petrol, the LPG system is misadjusted or the ignition system is in poor repair. LPG is harder to ignite than petrol and requires that the ignition system is in top nick. A competent LPG installer will solve this problem in about 15 minutes.

Comment by weez 09.21.10 @ 10:04 am

BTW, a quick bit of research indicates your average ordinary well-tuned 3.8-4.0L Falcodore goes ~12L/100km on petrol and 14-15L/100km on LPG. If the cited person’s Commodore was going 8-9L/100km, someone at Holden would surely like to see this magic car. The only way an LPG Commodore would use 20L/100km and be operating properly is if it had a V8 and is pulling a caravan.

Comment by weez 09.21.10 @ 5:31 pm

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