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The Forum > Article Comments > Ethanol isnít worth the energy > Comments

Ethanol isnít worth the energy : Comments

By Jeremy Brown, published 21/11/2005

Jeremy Brown argues using ethanol for fuel may produce more greenhouse gases than using petrol.

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The world leader in ethanol production is obviously Brazil. They have been successfully converting sugar cane to ethanol for many years. Brazil started out by doing it out of necessity. They could not afford the imported oil and needed to make their own fuel.

Countries like Canada and Australia that are worried about greenhouse gasses would be better off importing ethanol from Brazil or else considering bio-diesel from oil crops rather than subsidizing inefficient ethanol producers.

It appears that farmers are simply using global warming as an excuse for more pork barrelling in the rural sector.
Posted by Rob88, Monday, 21 November 2005 10:59:58 AM
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I appreciated Jeremy Brown's clear and straightforward analysis of the limits of ethanol as a way to supply transport energy. His analysis makes me wonder whether Brazil's ethanol production is getting an uncounted fossil fuel subsidy, perhaps in the form of not counting the cost of the various agricultural inputs into producing the sugar cane in the first place. I suppose as long as we are producing sugar cane, making ethanol from it could be a useful processs. But producing ethanol from grain, as our government proposes to to looks like a loser according to what Brown says, though it would be a source of income for Liberal party supporter Manildra.

From what I know of the energy economics of biofuels, they cannot supply a reasonable source of energy to replace what we now burn as petroleum. The way ahead looks more and more like reduction of energy use especially by switching from road based transport of all forms, and especially from cars to public transport, as well as organising our economy to become drastically less transport dependent.
Posted by RichardM, Monday, 21 November 2005 11:31:38 AM
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I would have to wonder whether the net energy return for conventional oil production takes into account the energy costs in making and repairing the refinery.

Sylvia.
Posted by Sylvia Else, Monday, 21 November 2005 12:02:52 PM
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Jeremy Brown has certainly convinced me that the ethanol route is going in the wrong direction. But I confess that as a dedicated petrol-head, the use of less powerful fuels has never been a desirable option to me. I like my petrol with a heady full force bang - not blended rubbish.

But as suggested, more public transport for everybody else would leave more petrol for people like me. That is an excellent idea.

In the meantime, oil continues to flow, petrol gets more expensive and oil companies continue to make record profits. So what's the problem? It's just life as usual.
Posted by Maximus, Monday, 21 November 2005 12:04:01 PM
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Jeremy Brown makes some good points. HOWEVER, what all of this fails to account for is that, thus far, all the 'out of whack' economics presumes that ALL the inputs are FOSSIL FUEL BASED...and that just aint necessarily so. It is now completely possible to generate the various inputs via solar sources, steam sources, and other renewables, which tilts the balance right back towards NET ENERGY GAINS, and therefore good economics as well as good health policy and sound environmental policy. I appreciate the dilemma, and I fully understand that very few, THUS FAR, can do other than burn petrol or diesel to run tractors, etc...however that is fast changing. Keep your eyes peeled for www.energychallenge.com.au. Currently under construction, this site will have more than a few things to say on the subject. cheers,
Posted by omygodnoitsitsitsyou, Monday, 21 November 2005 12:14:25 PM
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Some time ago CSIRO and other researchers were investigating the use of plant species from the genus Euphorbia for generating petroleum. There are over 2000 species worldwide. They range in habit from annual weeds to trees and contain a latex, typical of most succulents. They mostly originate from Africa and Madagascar, with a number of species in Australia and all are significantly draught tolerant growing in semi arid landscapes. The latex from these plants was proposed as a potential bio-fuel in the early 1980ís with promising analyses conducted indicating the latex to be very similar in composition to petroleum, contain light end alkanes. I remember developing tissue culture techniques to mass produce these plants should broad scale cultivation take place for petrol generation. From the reports I was reading back then, petroleum could be produced for around $1.20/Litre. A very expensive fuel when oil derived petroleum was around the 20-30 cent mark. However, todayís prices make it a very real prospect.
I have moved on since then but would be very interested in a discussion of what happened to that possibility? What ever happened to growing the petrol plants??
Posted by Woodyblues, Monday, 21 November 2005 12:17:34 PM
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