Not easy being green under pump

Whenever I have to fuel up my little Festiva, I usually go for the E10 ethanol blended fuel. For one thing it's cheaper, but I also thought a fuel that was partially derived from plant waste must lower the emissions I'm producing from my car-dependant lifestyle.

I've heard the arguments that ethanol blends are bad for your engine, but my engine is 20 years old and still ticking along nicely.

But I read something last week that has completely changed my mind about using ethanol fuels (www.theglobalmail. org/feature/priming- australias-ethanol- pump/49/).

Not only is it less efficient, its credentials as a "green fuel" are highly questionable.

The company that has a virtual monopoly over the ethanol market in NSW, Manildra, receives huge government subsidies and tariffs to prevent overseas competitors coming into the market. But according to the Productivity Commission, the millions of dollars that have been poured into ethanol have only led to a reduction of CO2 emissions from motor vehicles of about 0.3%. Others claim it is even less.

Premier Barry O'Farrell recently backed down from a commitment made by the previous Labor government to ban regular unleaded fuel from sale from July 1 this year. This would have forced motorists to buy more expensive 'premium' unleaded products or to use ethanol blends. He has however retained the NSW "ethanol mandate" - a commitment that pure ethanol will make up 6% of all fuel sales in NSW. (That's about 60% of all fuel sold).

Manildra is a big contributor to both major political parties ($600,000 in 2010/11, fairly evenly split between both sides of politics).

They are on the record as saying that 50% of their product is derived from wheat, and not waste-wheat starch. As the demand grows, so too does their need for agricultural land and resources, and therefore the old food vs fuel argument comes into play again.

Unless you're running your car on recycled vegie oil, there are no sustainable alternatives at the bowser to keep our combustion engines running. But next time you fill up, just consider whose interests are being served.

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