Yesterday the Prime Minister John Howard announced a $1.576 billion funding package over eight-years to promote alternative fuels. The package included rebates for converting cars to LPG and $17 million over three years for petrol stations to install new pumps or convert existing pumps to E10 blends and to encourage sales of E10. E10 is an ethanol-blended fuel.
And yesterday I received an email from Ray Wilson with the comment:
“I read a lot about the production of ethanol by agriculture. Ethanol is not a good fuel because a standard petrol engine needs to be extensively modified to use 100% ethanol as it has only half the energy density of petrol.
However, just as one can produce petrol and diesel from coal using the Fischer-Tropsch process, one can use cellulosic (Wood, leaves, grass, grains, etc) matter too to make petrol and diesel by this method. This can be done profitably and the process is well-known.
So instead of setting up plants to make ethanol why not set them up to make diesel and petrol instead?
I would do this myself, but I lack the basic access to funds to do much. However, perhaps there are farmers or other industrialists who may be able to use the information, to the benefit of our country and the environment.
I would very much like to ensure too that anyone who is intending to produce ethanol is aware that the technology already exists to make environmentally-friendly diesel and petrol before they take the step to go ahead and make ethanol. I believe they would be making a mistake.”
I responded suggesting that it was presumably uneconomic, and Ray emailed back:
“Strangely enough, the Fischer-Tropsch process used to convert cellulosic matter into diesel and petrol has not been mentioned by anyone that I know about. I hear no debate about it at all.
I think the reason for this is simply that it has not occurred to anyone yet. I would like to at least ask the people who are thinking of making ethanol whether they have considered this process. But I do not know who they are or how to contact them.
The Fischer-Tropsch process is normally used to convert coal to fuels, but it works equally well with cellulosic matter as a feedstock.
So instead of just using the sugar cane juice to make ethanol and discarding the residue, one can convert the entire plant into diesel and petrol and discard very little. Any plant material will do too.
The subsides are available for anyone who wants to proceed with this R&D and the project itself, provided one has the collateral to cover 50% of the Federal loan. I do not have this, so it is very difficult for me to do anything myself. I actually looked into this in some detail recently.
Plant oils are suitable for use as a diesel fuel, but the rest of the plant is discarded as waste. For example, oil-palm nuts are crushed to yield their oil, but the pulp is discarded. Not very efficient.”