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Canberra Times: Biofuels and food can coexist through crop co-use – Letters to the Editor

Canberra Times – Australasia; Feb 10, 2006
In his opinion article in The Canberra Times (''Producing more biofuels means replacing food'', February 8, p15), Simon Grose seeks to make the argument that biofuels means replacing food. Fortunately this is not a true statement.
Ethanol and biodiesel are co-users of grain. From wheat, for example, starches, flour, sugars and protein are extracted for food and other industrial purposes, and the waste starches are converted into ethanol.
With oilseed crops the oil is crushed out of the grain, converted into biodiesel, and the significant proportion of protein extracted is used in livestock feedlot to produce food.
A positive message in President Bush's State of the Union address was the support the Administration is giving to the commercial demonstration of the competitiveness of cellulose to ethanol technologies within six years.
Significant progress has already been made by a Canadian company, Iogen, with the support of Royal Dutch Shell, in extracting the sugars in the cell walls of wheat stubble in a demonstration pilot plant.
This opens up the prospect of producing ethanol from the stubble from a wide range of food and non-food grain crops, bagasse, woody weeds and forest plantation wastes, etc, in the near future via the co-use of a wide variety of biomass for food and energy purposes.
An expert from the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (funded by the US Department of Energy) has estimated that with this technology more than 4 billion litres of ethanol could be extracted every year from sugarcane stalks (bagasse) in Queensland alone.
Advances in biotechnology have demonstrated that higher-yielding and more pest-resistant crops can produce significantly higher yields without reducing land for food-crop production.
This has been a significant factor in enabling the US to expand ethanol production from corn from 8billion litres (BL) to 16BL a year with minimal take-up of new arable land, and has enabled the US to hold its position as the largest producer and exporter of corn protein for livestock feed/food use in the world. Science is an essential component of progress today and in the future.
We share Simon's, and Senator Ron Boswell's, concerns over the push by CSIRO for greater client linkages to the bigger corporate dollars from the coal, oil, gas and minerals sectors. This inevitably comes at a cost to CSIRO's credibility as an unbiased expert source of advice for the ''public good'' in other competing science sectors such as agriculture, renewable energy, the environment, etc.
Loss of public confidence in CSIRO's credibility by taxpayers who also remain big shareholders in the institution via their tax dollars would represent an enormous and irretrievable loss for Australia.
Bob Gordon, executive director, Renewable Fuels Australia

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