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Monday, 6 September 1993
Page: 926

Senator COULTER (4.20 p.m.) —by leave—I move:

  That the Senate take note of the additional answer given by the Minister for Science and Small Business (Senator Schacht), in response to a question without notice asked by Senator Coulter on 2 September 1993 relating to petrol.

Again, I am pleased that Senator Schacht has informed himself on the question of the addition of alcohol to petrol as an octane enhancer and as a way in which we could completely eliminate lead from petrol. In his answer today he observed that if we follow the course on which we are now embarked, lead will not be removed from petrol before the year 2002 and that by then production will no longer be economic. I am quite sure that even then, in 2002, there will still be some people driving older cars that will need to use some octane enhancer.   I just want to pick up two points with respect to Senator Schacht's otherwise excellent answer. Firstly, he said:

The Australian Institute of Petroleum has claimed that there are economic and technical disadvantages that outweigh the possible benefits in the short term, including problems in producing and distributing sufficient ethanol, in dealing with water in ethanol and with corrosion.

Of course, one should not be surprised that the Australian Institute of Petroleum should be averse to the replacement of roughly 10 per cent of the fuel, which it currently imports and sells, with a different source of fuel. It has very much a vested interest in selling as much petroleum as it possibly can. Senator Schacht needs to deal with those claims from that quarter with a certain degree of circumspection.

  I note that when Manildra, a company in the south east of New South Wales, produced a large amount of ethanol from wheat starch and sought to put that into ethanol, the manager of that company approached one of the oil companies to see whether it would take the ethanol on board and use it as a fuel. The oil company said that it would get back to him. When he approached two other oil companies it became clear to him that the first oil company had already approached the other two and that they were intent on blocking the use of ethanol as an addition to fuel.

  The manager then went ahead and actually bought a service station and proceeded to offer the ethanol petrol mix to the public, whereupon the remaining major supplier of petrol undertook to buy as much ethanol as he could produce. That gasohol mixture is now being sold exclusively—it is the only fuel which is sold—in six service stations in southern New South Wales. They are doing very well out of it and the petrol company is continuing to sell that mix.

  Senator Schacht mentioned—and I am pleased to note this—that the government has offered $2 million for the development of a plant to make ethanol out of cellulosic wastes. That grant will be matched dollar for dollar—so the amount will be $4 million. The technology to do that is already quite well advanced. This raises one of the other very significant arguments which have been brought against the use of ethanol—namely, the energy required to actually make the ethanol available.

  The technology which is being developed involves the separation of the ethanol from dilute fermentation mashes without the use of distillation. It involves a method of preparation which not only separates the ethanol but also provides in floccular form the cellulosic wastes which are left over. These can then be used as a fuel which can reconcentrate the solutions which are used in the extraction. So it is a totally energy self-sufficient process. I think that other objection to the use of ethanol, which the minister did not mention, has already been addressed and has been overcome. So again I would press the government to go ahead with this as quickly as possible.