How To “Green-Wash” A (Carbon-Intensive) State

Guest essay by Phil Hutchings

Coming back to live in Brisbane after a couple of years away, I was staggered to find the Queensland Government is running TV advertisements to promote the use of E10 (petrol blended with 10% ethanol).

And, to be fair, when your state is one of the world’s biggest coal and gas exporters, it’s hard to present yourself as eco-friendly in today’s GHG-phobic world.

But promoting ethanol in fuel?

Fifteen years ago, I worked on the (then) abortive financing for a sorghum-to-ethanol plant in Queensland’s Darling Downs. That plant was built subsequently. It has struggled, with lack of demand for ethanol. It was close to closure in 2015.

But, hey, the clean green Queensland Government has ridden to the rescue, seeking to burnish its environmental credentials. Hence – a tax-payer advertising campaign. Advertising giant Ogilvy Brisbane got the gig to produce the TV ads and place saturation billboard coverage in every suburb. The campaign cleverly focuses on whether your “car is E10 ok”.


It stays away from directly suggesting E10 is better environmentally.

Just as well. Here are some uncomfortable facts about ethanol, which we don’t talk about:

Ethanol has much lower calorific value than petrol. In fact, a litre of ethanol has only 2/3 the energy value of unleaded petrol.

Hence, with E10 fuel (10% ethanol, 90% petrol), your fuel consumption and running costs will increase by 4%.

Production of ethanol from sugar cane or sorghum (as we do in Queensland) itself produces CO2. During ethanol fermentation, glucose and other sugars are converted into ethanol and carbon dioxide. Simple chemistry:

C6H12O6 → 2 C2H5OH+ 2 CO2

So, CO2 is released both in the use and manufacture of E10.

And our Federal Government helps too, leaving ethanol with significantly reduced excise rates. Currently, ethanol gets a $0.26 litre subsidy from the Feds compared with petrol. For comparison, you can import refined petrol into Australia from Singapore for about $0.55 per litre today (pre-tax and excise).

So, ethanol is getting a close to 50% subsidy.

I can’t find any scholarly articles that truly look at whether ethanol is “environmentally better” than fossil fuels.

But hey, like they say on TV, it’s “a renewable energy sources and produced right here in Queensland”. Must be good, right?

82 thoughts on “How To “Green-Wash” A (Carbon-Intensive) State

  1. The theory is that the CO2 is only that CO2 that was sucked up by the plant from the atmosphere in the first place – so it’s carbon neutral.
    Just like petrol, in fact.

    • thanks, but not quite the same as petrol.
      The CO2 you produce from bio ethanol has co
      me out of TODAY’S atmosphere , so adding it back makes not difference to ppmv.
      Oil’s CO2 got taken out a few million years ago so does make a difference. But you know that don’t you. So don’t mess folks around,

      • But if the land that is being used for ethanol was left alone (for example as a forest) then the CO2 would still be extracted from the air and not released back into the air. So you’ve turned a CO2 negative into a CO2 neutral.
        Plus the cultivating, harvesting and transporting the crops and turning them into ethanol is powered 100% by fossil fuels. So this is not carbon neutral at all.

      • Greg. Let’s get back to basics. Why does the Queensland government want to use ethanol in fuel? To reduce CO2 emissions. Why do they want to reduce CO2 emissions? To reduce global warming. By how much can they reduce global warming? Even on the most generous estimates – by far less than could ever be measured.
        The Queensland government is throwing away its taxpayers’ money.

      • Greg, So why was taking CO2 OUT of the atmosphere a few million years ago as kerogen so much better than putting it back today? Before you answer, consider the point of view of the trees.

      • Guys, Let’s not pile on Greg when there’s a basic fact that he’s right.
        If you ignore all the externalities, the CO2 released from ethanol was extracted from the current atmosphere. If you were able to power all of the ethanol production with its own product, then the resulting sold product would not increase CO2 levels in the atmosphere.
        Now, we know that the externalities and inefficiencies make this a joke, but that is a matter of efficiencies and technology, not a fundamental problem with the idea. If you take the propagandist’s word that it is efficient, then it’s a reasonable action to reduce CO2.

      • Greg – October 23, 2016 at 11:28 am

        Oil’s CO2 got taken out a few million years ago so does make a difference.

        Right you are, … Greg, …… the removal of all that CO2 from the atmosphere a few million years ago ….. and sequestering it into what is now “fossil fuels”, …… sure as hell made a difference in the survival of the dinosaurs …… because, IMLO, it was the primary reason for the dinosaur extinction(s).
        “DUH”, just like now days, atmospheric CO2 is at the “tippity top” of the biological “food chain”.
        The greater the quantity of atmospheric CO2 ppm = the greater the growth in size and numbers of “green-growing” plant biomass.
        And the greater the growth in size and numbers of “green-growing” plant biomass = the greater the growth in size and numbers of reproducing species of animal biomass.
        And those large dinosaurs, both plant eaters and meat eaters, evolved because the “eatin” was plentiful and the “livin” was easy.
        But the “plant-eating” animals could not keep up with the “growth-rate” of the plants, ….. and thus the CO2 laden “un-eaten” plants were being sequestered in swamps and under water ….. whereas the “meat-eating” animals could keep up with the “growth-rate” of the “plant-eating” animals ……. and thus the “eatin” was plentiful and the “livin” was easy for all the animal carnivores.
        And shur nuff, ….. the “eatin” was plentiful and the “livin” was easy for all the animal carnivores ….. until such time that atmospheric CO2 ppm quantities started a drastic decline because too much of the available CO2 had been and still was being sequestered in the dead biomass.
        And when the atmospheric CO2 ppm quantities started a drastic decline, so did the decline in the “growth-rate” and quantities of the green plants. And when the green plant quantities started a drastic decline, so did the decline in the “growth-rate” and quantities of herbivores that depended upon said green plants. And when the “plant-eating” animal herbivore quantities started a drastic decline, so did the decline in the “growth-rate” and quantities of “meat-eating” animal carnivores.
        And it was the “biggest” and ”largest” of the “plant-eating” animal herbivore ….. and the “biggest” and ”largest” of the “meat-eating” animal carnivores ….. that died-off and became extinct the quickest.
        There is not enough atmospheric CO2 quantities now days, to support the growth rate of “green growing” biomass that would be necessary to support the growth rate and reproduction of extremely large “plant eating” herbivores or “meat-eating” carnivores.
        When one gets too “big” and too “hungry”, they will eventually “eat their way out of house n’ home”.

      • @Mike Jonas
        The Queensland government is throwing away its taxpayers’ money
        Yes, but who is catching that money????????

    • Sugars and other plant tissues and fluids are where plants put their CO2 after the chlorophyll process.
      Crush and mash the plants into a soup for fermentation and add yeast.
      Use exothermic energy to keep the yeast at the most efficacious temperatures.
      Man uses exothermic energy to boil off the ethanol, repeatedly; mustn’t leave any recoverable ethanol.
      Man then uses fossil fueled transportation to transport the ethanol to plants were the ethyl alcohol can be mixed into the gas. At all points the ethanol must be kept free from air exposures.
      The ethanol process releases CO2 just by itself. The net release is two CO2 molecules for every two molecules of ethanol.
      Definitely not “carbon neutral”
      Nor is the entire exothermic process required to generate and separate ethanol out, transport, mix:
      Then adding in expensive lower caloric fuel forces the purchaser to buy and burn 4% more fuel.
      So carbon neutral that eco-loons go into mad frenzies scrubbing and cleansing their green fantasies… All is carbon neutral if they believe so.

      • And that’s not counting the diesel fuel it takes to till the ground, plant the crop, produce the insecticides while it grows, harvest the crop, and transport it to the distillery.

      • The elephant in the room that no one mentions (although it may be mentioned below, haven’t gotten that far) is that the fermentation process, especially on an industrial scale, is extremely water-intensive, and with current global conditions, water resources in some areas are stretched almost beyond capacity. So not only does ethanol provide “less bang for the buck.” and the production of ethanol actually produce CO2 and lead to deforestation and increased food costs, it also stretches already limited fresh water resources.
        But it’s all to save the planet, don’t you know.

      • Depending on what’s being used for ethanol (here it’s corn) it also has to be planted, fertilized, sprayed for weeds and bugs, etc. There are a lot of extra steps that must be gone through before harvesting and processing 0 unlike oil, which only needs “harvesting” and processing.

    • Yes, that is the ‘theory’.
      To bad that ‘theory’ ignores the CO2 emitted to grow and harvest the sorghum. And the CO2 emitted to transport the crop to the processing plant. And the CO2 emitted to transport the ethanol to the blending location.
      But if we ignore all that it is carbon neutral, maybe.

  2. The only ones who love ethanol are the producers of it. I just love that the government makes me buy ethanol, whether I want it or not. Same as I don’t want spam with my eggs.

    • Well, I will say I do enjoy purchasing ethanol, especially as an accompaniament to spam, eggs, and spam.

  3. The Emperor’s New Government. I wait for the day when some group of politicians get voted into office in a Western state who will actually say “Hey, wait a minute, all of this renewables nonsense is nothing but unevidenced bs!” There must eventually come a “tipping point” where someone finds the guts to say what everyone other than the eco fruitcakes knows is true.

  4. Govts (and their voters) should always ask themselves: What problem is being solved by this action, and by how much will the problem be solved? On both counts this thing does not fly.

  5. Ethanol is also miscible with water hence it takes the condensation in your fuel tank into solution and increases the potential for aqueous corrosion in the fuel system of your vehicle.

    • That too! it’s both water-intensive and a waste of a natural resource to produce, can also mix with water and ruin your car. Loverly additive, that ethanol.

      • E10 has destroyed engines than anything else in the history of hydrocarbon machines (including operator error or poor maintenance).
        Always add Stabil or PRG to counter the effects, no matter what kind of gasoline engine you use.

    • And those of us who live in cold countries actually like it for the same reason, because it doesn’t plug your fuel filter with ice crystals from condensation or exsolution. Before the 10% ethanol came out, we used to have to buy denatured ethanol to put in our tanks to prevent this. At least, some of us did.
      It can be very disconcerting (and potentially life threatening) to be on a remote bush road in the middle of a -45° night and feel your car engine putting out less and less power and finally stalling. Since that happened to me in 1987, I made a point of using 10% ethanol fuel for every fifth (or thereabouts) fill-up.
      To be fair though, 1 percent of ethanol would alleviate the ice-crystal-in-fuel problem. The other 9 percent is just one of the inconveniences of modern life.

      • When I lived in Northern B.C. I put some methanol in with every fill up. Keeping the tank full helps keep the water out (that comes in with moist air). I used to decant bulk methanol into empty shampoo bottle from hotel room stays. I had a tray of these in the station wagon. One day my wife went into a servo (before the days of self serve) and she said to the pump jockey “Please put one of these in the tank”. HE PUT THE WHOLE THING PLASTIC BOTTLE AND ALL IN THROUGH THE FILLER NOZZLE. The station owner had to remove the tank from the vehicle to get it out!

      • “It can be very disconcerting (and potentially life threatening) to be on a remote bush road in the middle of a -45° night and feel your car engine putting out less and less power and finally stalling.”
        That’s a pretty good reason for using a bit of ethanol. Not exactly our main concern in Queensland, though. -45° would be a bit unusual on our bush roads, even in winter. But perhaps after we have stopped Global Warming by using ethanol, we might have to think about that.

  6. Australia’s oil production is decreasing. More and more of its oil is imported and that has a negative influence on balance of payments. Ethanol can help with that.
    In the 1970s, because of the Arab oil embargo, we started paying attention to energy security. Many people experimented with ethanol, methanol, and methane. Some people are still at it.
    Right now, oil is cheap. If it becomes much more expensive other fuels, including ethanol, will become practical.

    • Why ethanol?
      If oil prices rise, far better to go with coal to liquid technologies. Or gas from fracking or normal processes..
      Ethanol should only ever be made from waste, otherwise you are taking up valuable food growing land.

  7. All it takes is for an ad campaign highlighting the nonsense. The facts speak for themselves. Let the people who pay the State taxes hold these pecksniffian eco-bureaucratic scientific illiterati to account.

  8. Here in the state’s the EPA mandates that certain areas must use oxygenated fuels. Ethanol is the usual oxygenation agent. Never mind that where I live the study and measurements that dictated that we need the special fuel have never been reproduced in over 15 years. I have never seen a study or the measurements that say that the pollution is actually less with the ethanol since you are burning more per mile,.

  9. At one time I was reviewing an environmental impact assessment report for a proposed ethanol plant using tapioca. I thought the proponent had a cut and paste report using a coal fired plan as a template as there was a lot of coal input. Ethanol production from starch requires lots of energy input. The net energy from ethanol derived from corn starch is only 30 per cent. Ethanol from sugar have a higher energy yield as sugar mill have large surplus of biomass that could be diverted to ethanol production.

  10. As described (correctly) on this thread using E10 petrol involves putting food in your petrol tank. We have the same thing in NSW. It is immoral as well as economically stooooopid. Our household runs two cars as well as some small engines – mower, generator, chain saw etc. Our longstanding practice is to use anything but E10. If enough petrol consumers did the same thing then E10 production would stop.
    Perhaps, also, a note to Senator Roberts (Independent – Hanson group) to schedule some Senate hearings on the subject? Some well directed questions to some well selected experts would be widely reported as the MSM can’t resist anything this Senator does/says/thinks/writes. And Senator Wong (Labor) who was in the media spotlight (as our federal minister for Hot Air) with then Prime Minister Rudd back in the heady Copenhagen Climate conference day is making a new name for herself as a Senate Committee interrogator.

  11. I thought about making mention of the horse named “anthonysgotgame” running in the 9th race at Santa Anita.
    The odds makers give it a 10-1 chance of winning.
    Race time is about 4:30 (pacific).
    But it is way off topic.
    So never mind.

  12. Ethanol goes into a vehicle and it gets subsidized (30% or more)
    Ethanol goes into vodka and it gets taxed (100% or more).
    Seems backwards doesn’t it.

  13. Every solution to the non-existent CO2 problem proposed by the Greenies, Alarmists, and their handmaidens in government turns out to actually make the real World problem worse and ends up costing taxpayers an arm and a leg, and harming the poor and all the developing Nations too.

  14. Uh-huh … E10OK says E10 is ok for my vehicle. Carsguide ( says it is not ok. No problem – having had extensive experience of mandatory E18 fuel, I know better than to allow any proportion of the muck anywhere near my vehicle. Corrosion of alloys, accelerated corrosion of exhaust systems, fuel starvation due to vapourisation in tropical climates, The latter problem occurred in the fuel line feed on a V8 Jeep. I had to redirect a portion of the air-conditioning supply to keep the thing going. Duh …

  15. Quote *look at whether ethanol is “environmentally better” *
    Rio has discovered that it is worse.

  16. commieBob
    October 23, 2016 at 12:47 pm
    Ethanol for fuel is head bangingly stupid.
    Australia would be better served by encouraging onshore oil production. Exploration stopped in the 1990’s due to an unfavorable tax regime put in place by Craig “Mr Whyalla Wipeout” Emerson.
    There’s plenty of oil to be found on and offshore but a week or so ago BP stopped their proposal to drill the Great Australian Bight. May be due to current economics but also a great amount of Green and other useless idiots opposition. Funny thing is Mr Jay Weatherill of SA wind power disaster fame is pushing for BP to continue.
    Besides we can drill the GBR now that the Greens reckon it is completely stuffed anyway. Deceased mate of mine was an oil geologist and reckoned there was plenty of oil there.

  17. Follow the Money! Who gets paid for for producing ethanol?
    In Illinois, I heard that ethanol manufactures were allowed to pump 250 million gallons a year from the aquifer. Water is most important!

  18. I doesn’t have to actually work.
    This is all about inspiring faith in a dream of sustainability.
    If we believe it, then we can do it.
    (Wait, is that a maize field, ready to be converted into ethanol? Is that what this song was really about?)

  19. A year or so ago the CarsGuide (Aust) did a comparison of the 5 fuels available in OZ (E85, E10, ULP91-92, PULP 95 and 98) …. guess which one gave the better fuel consumption and actually worked out to be cheaper over-all, although it was the dearest to buy?

  20. “But hey, like they say on TV, it’s “a renewable energy sources and produced right here in Queensland”. Must be good, right?”
    Obviously a National Party boondoggle.

      • True, not the National party but Labour trying to appease those constituents – grain and sugar growers who would love a new subsidised market for their produce.
        Dressing it up in green clothing is a convenient camouflage for it’s ineffectiveness.

    • Some Queensland Nationals support it “to help the cane growers”. Others know its bunk.
      Last time I saw any calculations, they showed that it takes 3 units of conventional fossil-fuel energy to create 1 unit of of ethanol energy.

      • Not surprising. cane growers in Queensland have always had their hands in taxpayers pockets, as well as having “sympathetic” “scientists” and politicians at their side. Google cane toad! Say it’s not true! It is true and it is a *REAL* problem!

  21. When oh when are we going to wake up to the fact climate alarmism is one vast confidence trick?

  22. First generation (broadly crop-based) biofuels (liquid fuels derived from foodstuffs such as corn) were described by Jean Ziegler of the UN as a “crime against humanity”. According to his report “…232kg of corn is needed to make 50 litres of bioethanol…. a child could live on that amount of corn for a year”.

    • Leftist rant, complete with poor child used as “human shield” rhetoric. The truth is, bioethanol was designed because western corn producers couldn’t make a living and stopped production because of too low prices of corn. That is, this amount of corn wouldn’t have be produced in the first place, so no child could live on it.
      There is plenty food in the world, trouble is always some kind of political oppression.
      That doesn’t make biofuels a good thing ; they are not. But they just have enough shortcomings of their own, without this nonsensical accusation.

  23. A 4% increase in running costs? Baloney. I tried E10 fuel in my Mercedes A Class. Fuel consumption increased by more than 20% over using standard fuel. I soon gave up using it.

  24. Phil Hutchings, yes, Ethanol sucks.
    And the greens ought to pay for their:
    ‘Ethanol has much lower calorific value than petrol. In fact, a litre of ethanol has only 2/3 the energy value of unleaded petrol.
    Hence, with E10 fuel (10% ethanol, 90% petrol), your fuel consumption and running costs will increase by 4%.
    Production of ethanol from sugar cane or sorghum (as we do in Queensland) itself produces CO2. During ethanol fermentation, glucose and other sugars are converted into ethanol and carbon dioxide. Simple chemistry:
    C6H12O6 → 2 C2H5OH+ 2 CO2’
    Enough miles down the Via Appia over the weekend to crucifie them greens for national treason.
    – touristic national heritage –

  25. The best reason to use E5 or at most E10 is because it is an oxygenate to help burn the fuel better. If smog is a major concern then it makes sense to add ethanol rather than MTBE which pollutes the groundwater. There are other chemicals which could be used instead of ethanol but cost is usually the reason not to.

  26. “Currently, ethanol gets a $0.26 litre subsidy ”
    Just checked: NOT SO.
    Ethanol is taxed, A$0.026 per liter, lower than regular unleaded petrol fuel, but, still, this is NOT subsidy.
    Or would you agree to have the same kind of “subsidy” ? quite easy. Send me any amount of alcohol (preferably 12-y old, any kind) with $0.52 per liter, and I will subsidize you no less than $0.26 per liter ; wouldn’t make you happy ?

  27. Using E10 is supposed to reduce the need for precious petroleum in the manufacture of motor fuel. It has nothing to fi with being green or saving the environment! Now that we are in a worldwide glut of petroleum, I hardly see the need to continue the practice.

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