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Grain strain crops up for ethanol

Biofuels Association CEO Bruce Harrison at the Ethanol 2008 conference in Sydney.

A conference was held in Sydney last week to discuss everything ethanol and, despite the number of people at the Exhibition Centre in Darling Harbour and the number of topics, there were still more questions than answers.

Even carmakers, led by ethanol-focused Volvo and Saab, came away without answers for key questions, saying they still do not know about distribution, quality of the fuel, when it will become more widespread, and how Australian producers plan to run their industry.

It is clear ethanol can and will have a place during the transition from an oil-based world to something more sustainable and eco-friendly. Even the V8 Supercar world plans to move to ethanol fuel.

But there are big problems, from finding a pump to deliver more than just a minor blend of ethanol to overcoming the public's fear of a fuel that was attacked less than two years ago because it was a cut-price way to make money from unleaded blends.

I am keen to see ethanol do well, but most of the Sydney talk seemed to be about whether the world should grow crops for food or fuel, because if we use all the grain to make ethanol there is a good chance we will become thin, at the least.

Boosting ethanol is going to take a concerted push, with everyone on the same road. That is yet to happen.

What do you think? Should the world grow crops for food or fuel?