May 17th 2003

  Buy Issue 2657

Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Ethanol - behind the disinformation

EDITORIAL: New situations demand new policies

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Government sets itself a trap on Medicare

Will South Australia Upper House hold the line on life issues?

STRAWS IN THE WIND: We get the rights / Rap festival / Bogus leftists, fairy luddites

QUEENSLAND: Beattie challenges Nationals over sugar deregulation

Iraq fallout may end multilateral trade deals

HEALTH: Stopping feeding and hydration is true euthanasia

EDUCATION: Surviving the latest classroom fads

LIFESTYLE: SARS, AIDS and public policy

FAMILY: Bush and Howard diverge on life and family

BOOK REVIEW: The World We're In, by Will Hutton

BOOK REVIEW: Growth Fetish, by Clive Hamilton

ARTS: Melbourne Comedy Festival: A comedy of political errors?

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COVER STORY: Ethanol - behind the disinformation

by Patrick J. Byrne

News Weekly, May 17, 2003

Media stories have created a public perception that ethanol is damaging to car engines.

Last December, the Sydney Morning Herald ran a story about a motorist who paid $746.90 in repairs to a damaged engine due to cheaper petrol being laced with ethanol.

Subsequently, the mechanic who repaired the car told the paper's Paul Sheehan that the car he'd referred to was "damaged by petrol contaminated by kerosene" over a year earlier.

The mechanic, Neil Streeting, said that he had unwittingly become involved in a "political set-up". He'd been contacted by a Labor MP's office, then an hour later by a Sydney Morning Herald journalist.

The paper has since corrected the report but this story, and others, have taken on a life of their own.

Sheehan revealed how another story in Sydney's Daily Telegraph about ethanol damaging engines was also untrue. The fuel was subsequently tested and no ethanol was present.

But this did not stop Federal Labor leaders using the issue to attack ethanol, with repeated reference to Manildra, the ethanol producer that is also a Liberal party donor. This was Labor's real target.

Party politics aside, oil politics have taken over the anti-ethanol campaign. If the Federal government were to mandate say 10% ethanol in fuel, then the oil companies would lose 10% of the fuel market to ethanol producers.

Now oil companies are posting signs on fuel pumps saying "our fuel contains no ethanol," as if ethanol is bad for engines, and implicitly bad for human health.

Yet nothing could be further from the truth.

In the US, Mobil has produced a brochure headed "Why is Ethanol good for your car?"

It says, "Ethanol is safe to use in any type of engine." Contrary to Australian auto producers claiming that ethanol in petrol could invalidate car warranties, Mobil says, "Ethanol is an abundant new source of energy for the future that also helps conserve natural petroleum resources. Ethanol is covered under warranty by every automaker that sells cars in the United States.

"It's safe to use in your car, truck, motorcycle or any other engine. In fact, many automakers actually recommend reformulated gasolines like those that contain ethanol.

"Tests have concluded that ethanol does not increase corrosion, nor will it harm any seals or valves."

Further, Mobil says ethanol acts like detergents that "work to reduce build-up and keep your engine running smooth [sic]. In fact, using ethanol may even improve the performance of your vehicle.

"Ethanol helps keep fuel injector systems clean so they perform better ... Therefore, ethanol is also valuable as a cleaning agent that helps prevent problems."

Mobil also cites the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, which compared ethanol fuel to straight gasoline [petrol]. In a published report, the institute said that ethanol was "very similar in driving characteristics to straight gasoline, except that pre-ignition and dieseling (run-on) are noticeably reduced and acceleration can be improved" with ethanol.

The report continued: "Ethanol should be looked at as an octane enhancer. Mixing it with gasoline in a 9 to 1 ratio improves the octane rating about three octane numbers". The Mobil brochure adds: "There have been many other tests of ethanol during the past 20 years. Those tests found ethanol completely safe to use in all types of engines."

Compare this statement to the Australian Financial Review editorial (September 16, 2002) bagging ethanol, in which it claimed that "ethanol delivers a third less energy than petrol, so motorists would have to buy more and pay more for it."

Mobil also promotes the environmental benefits of ethanol in fuel. "Fuel with 10% ethanol has been certified by the Environmental Protection Agency to reduce carbon monoxide emissions by up to 30%." Carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas.

The brochure continues:

"There is a significant reduction in ... hydrocarbon tailpipe emissions when ethanol is used. Many cities and states across the nation take advantage of the environmental benefits ethanol provides. These cities include Chicago, Denver, Milwaukee and Minneapolis.

"Ethanol is used in virtually every state in the nation, from Alaska to Florida and from California to New York. For the United States, ethanol-blended fuels offer the promise of cleaner air. Ethanol is an abundant new source of energy for the future that also helps conserve natural petroleum resources ...

"While many solutions for improving our nation's air quality are being debated, ethanol is here today. Using ethanol blended fuels in your car, outboard motor, lawn mower, chainsaw, snow mobile, and other small engine can make a difference now."

Last year, over 10% of all gasoline in the US contained ethanol.

  • Pat Byrne

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