ETHANOL DEBATE: by News WeeklyNews Weekly
Eminent doctors and scientists call for ethanol biofuel blends
, September 20, 2003
A group of eminent doctors and scientists have presented a petition to Federal Cabinet calling for the mandating of ethanol in fuels to replace health damaging fuel additives in order to improve public health and to reduce health costs.
The petition was signed by :
- Associate Professor Ray Kearney, Department of Infectious Diseases & Immunology, The University of Sydney;
- Professor Paul Greenfield, Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor, University of Queensland;
- Professor Harry Watson, Department of Mechanical & Manufacturing Engineering, University of Melbourne;
- Dr Joe Baker, Commissioner for The Environment, ACT;
- Adjunct Professor Barry Batts, Department of Chemistry, Macquarie University (NSW);
- Dr William J. Wells, Wells Enterprises International, Sarina Qld.
The petition highlights the growing body of international and Australian scientific evidence of the risks posed to the public by traffic-related air pollution, especially coarse, fine and ultra-fine particles, gaseous irritants, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.
"Exhaust pollution including coarse, fine and ultra-fine particles, gaseous irritants, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH's) either alone or in combination, are known to be associated with, for example:
- premature death;
- one in five lung cancer deaths (USA) and accelerated tumour growth;
- inflammatory lung diseases e.g., asthma, bronchitis and alveolitis;
- increased cardio-vascular disease;
- risk for exercise-induced heart damage;
- limited blood flow and increased blood clotting;
- increased mucous production and airway hyper-responsiveness;
- symptoms of anaemia e.g., tiredness, headaches, fatigue and shortness of breath;
- low birth weight and small head circumference of neonate;
- intra-uterine growth retardation;
- certain leukaemias e.g., from exposure to benzene;
- loss in productivity, absenteeism from work and school;
- increased sensitivity to bacterial products in airways;
- more severe common viral asthma."
The petition summarised research from a number of countries on the issue. It said:
"Vehicle emissions account for up to 65% of urban air pollution ... The effect is a major increase in sickness-care costs to the nation's health budget. In France, a study showed two-thirds of health care costs due to pollution resulted when levels of pollution were below the national standard for particulate matter.
"In a major study in Austria, France and Switzerland by Kunzli et al (2000), air pollution caused 6% of total mortality or more than 40,000 attributable cases per year. Traffic pollution accounted for more than 25,000 new cases of chronic bronchitis (adults); more than 290,000 episodes of bronchitis (children); more than 0.5 million asthma attacks; and more than 16 million person-days of restricted activities."
For these reasons, "Traffic-related air pollution remains a key target for public-health action overseas including Europe, Britain, USA and India."
The scientists say that there are major public health and environmental benefits "to using ethanol-blends:
- Ethanol is non-toxic, water soluble and highly biodegradable.
- The American Lung Association of Metropolitan Chicago credits ethanol-blended reformulated petrol with reducing smog-forming emission in the city by 25% since 1990.
- Ethanol reduces tailpipe carbon monoxide (CO) emissions by as much as 25%.
- Ethanol reduces particulate emissions, especially fine particulates that pose a health threat to children, senior citizens and individuals suffering from respiratory ailments."
The eminent doctors and scientists say that the best commercial biofuels prospects in Australia are ethanol and biodiesel. Ethanol is mainly derived here from two renewable sources - fermentation from sugars in grains such as wheat and corn and from 'C' molasses.
"Overseas ethanol-blended fuels may contain as much as a 85% ethanol. Car manufacturers Chrysler, Mazda and Ford are now marketing cars to compute automatically to any alcohol-blended fuel.
"The European Union in 2001 introduced a proposal to promote biofuels such as biodiesel, bioethanol or hydrogen fuels. The Commission's goal is to increase biofuel use from 2% in 2005 to 5.75% in 2010 and 20% by 2020.
"Ethanol contains 35% oxygen. Adding oxygen to fuel results in more complete fuel combustion, reducing harmful tailpipe emissions.
"Many countries are adopting ethanol production to reduce harmful emissions from vehicles and enhance economic development. Ethanol also displaces the use of toxic petrol components such as benzene - a carcinogen known to cause leukemia.
"Ethanol-blended fuels reduced the CO2-equivalent greenhouse gas emissions by approx. 3.6 million tons in the USA in 2001, i.e., equivalent to removing 520,000 cars from roads."
Ethanol also produces "cleaner burning engines [and] improved vehicle performance."
The eminent doctors and scientists said there was an urgent need to increase farmer confidence for canola and sugar cane. They recommended legislating fuel standards to include renewable biofuels such as biodiesel and ethanol-blended petrol. Long term excise relief (or domestic producers credit) is required to engender confidence.
The medical and scientific experts made four key recommendations:
1. "In support of the Federal Coalition 2001 election commitment, we advocate the expansion of the market for domestically produced renewable biofuels to reduce Australia's dependence on imported petroleum, spur rural economic development creating new jobs and tax revenue, and improve environmental quality by reducing emissions of harmful pollutants and greenhouse gases.
2. "We urge the Federal Government to enact a more aggressive Renewable Fuels Standard than is currently in the legislation, noting biofuels offer an immediate alternative to imported fossil fuels, are completely compatible with current transportation infrastructure as petroleum blending components of stand-alone fuels, and in the longer term are an ideal hydrogen source for fuel cells.
3. "Enact legislation to use ethanol as an oxygenate in petrol and to reduce levels of carcinogenic benzene.
4. "Enact legislation that allows durable excise rebates for the greenhouse credits, urban quality and health gains from ethanol and biodiesel in proportion to their proven environmental and health benefits."