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.
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!
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