In which our intrepid hero thanks his lucky stars he does not own a car.

Prime Minister John Howard is pushing for the addition of 5% ethanol to petrol, in order to cut fuel costs and reduce emissions. As the article states, it’s a renewable energy resource, so it’s good all ’round, right?

Um, no. Being an ex-chemistry student, I know something about industrial ethanol production. It’s not made by fermentation; it’s too expensive a process to use outside the beverage industry. (Fermentation is really the only way to make it safe to drink). Industrial ethanol is made from—wait for it—petroleum. Don’t believe me? Check out the article on ethanol at Wikipedia:

Ethanol for industrial use is often made from petroleum feedstocks, typically by the catalytic hydration of ethylene with sulfuric acid as catalyst. This process is cheaper than the production by fermentation.

Now, you can scale up the distillation process, but, as I said, it’s a fair bit more expensive to produce ethanol from biomass. If we’re serious about renewable ethanol fuel additives, then we’ll pay more, not less, at the pump.

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