Ethanol back on agenda

CONDONG Sugar Mill could become an energy refinery of the future -- producing a combination of electricity for local homes and ethanol fuel for cars -- if oil prices continue to soar, according to industry optimists.

With the mill already set to begin pumping electricity into the power grid from its new co-generation plant within months, and petrol prices heading towards a predicted $2 a litre, some farmers are seeing a brighter future in sugar for fuel rather than for food.

Tweed Canegrowers' Association president Graham Martin says the option of producing ethanol at the Condong mill was considered but rejected about five years ago by the grower-owned NSW Sugar Milling Co-operative.

But he predicts the prospect is bound to come back on the agenda as oil prices rise.

Adding to the value of producing ethanol are predictions of an ethanol shortage worldwide.

"Five years ago when they made the decision to go into co-generation they looked at it very carefully," said Mr Martin.

"They decided that unless the federal government mandated a certain percentage of all fuel to be ethanol there wasn't a guaranteed market. But anything can change so quickly."

Mr Martin said Canadian farmers who had been growing large amounts of corn specifically for the huge American ethanol market have just come out of an extremely cold and long winter.

Farmers there are now worried the window to plant and grow corn would be too short and were opting not to plant this year.

"When things like that happen it will have an impact on ethanol produced there," he warned.

Earlier this week Tweed Daily News columnist and environmentalist Giovanni Ebono claimed that while a hectare of sugar cane could currently produce about $3000 worth of sugar it would be worth four times that amount when converted to 11,000 litres of ethanol.

"With oil prices heading rapidly for $200 a barrel, and one-quarter of the US corn crop being mashed up and converted into booze for engines, not cocktails, the numbers only get better," said Mr Ebono.

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