Cheers 2

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Hard on the heels of World No Alcohol Day which happens on October 2 every year, a team of United States scientists announced another poke in the eye for the temperance crowd, that bunch of killjoys who continue to fight a desperate but losing battle against the pleasures of living.

In what is an added humiliation for the teetotallers, these trailblazing scientists are employed by the US Department of Energy Oak Ridge National Laboratory and they have been brazen about their accomplishment. I bet that the anti-fun crowd is wondering why some latter-day Elliot Ness doesn’t smash this moonshine still.

Elliot Ness and his lads gave of their all during prohibition in the US, which lasted from 1920 to 1933 trying to keep America free from the scourge of the demon drink and their efforts resulted in the rise of Al Capone and other gangsters who made fortunes from illicit grog. Somewhat ironically, Ness became an alcoholic and died aged 54.

Anyhow, I’m predicting a Nobel Prize for this team — after all if Bob Dylan can get the Nobel Prize for Literature the invention of a new process for making hard liquor more than deserves recognition and praise. Sensible people — myself included — would agree that refreshing strong drink has given the world far more pleasure than all of Dylan’s inane warblings put together.

What this team did was convert carbon dioxide into ethanol and ethanol is alcohol.

I’m sure even the most fanatical greenie would be applauding this breakthrough, albeit possibly for a different reason than I do. After all, carbon dioxide is the terrible nasty that is supposed to be causing global warming and all of the consequent environmental catastrophes. This reinforces the case for a Nobel Prize — turning something awful into something to be cherished — doesn’t it?

The team leader Dr Adam Rondinone was very modest and even self-effacing and verging on diffident about the achievement.

It seems they were running a solution of carbon dioxide dissolved in water over charged surface in the hope of describing a reaction when they made their serendipitous discovery.

“We discovered somewhat by accident that this material worked,” Dr Rondinone said.

He did describe the process in rather boring detail. There was mention of “nanoscopic spikes” and something being “studded with copper nanoparticles” and my eyes glazed over while at the same time being filled with tears of gratitude.

However, I could not fail to note that the solution produced had a whopping ethanol content of 63 per cent, which really makes it rocket fuel. Even grappa, the heroic Italian brandy, has a maximum of 60 per cent pure alcohol.

For some curious reason I couldn’t quite discern, the ABC sought an opinion from some boffin at Monash University, Shannon Bonke, who was described as an “energy conversion expert”. No doubt he is just wonderful at what he does but I would have sought an opinion from a bar owner.

Anyhow, Bonke thought that the breakthrough was exciting and that a pure fuel made in a laboratory was cleaner in many ways that fossil fuels. I knew that which is why I don’t consume kerosene. One has to draw the line somewhere.

“Carbon dioxide has one carbon in it but ethanol has two carbons, so we are sort of assembling the Lego blocks to get the carbon molecules,” Bonke said.

Isn’t that exciting? I bet the funsters at Lion Nathan, among others, have already convened multi-disciplinary strategic working parties to explore ways and means of incorporating this process into their marvellous products.

Perhaps Bonke is a non-drinker because he didn’t appear to consider this. In fact, he told the ABC that the “side benefit” of this process was that “… the air’s going to be cleaner because what you are burning is cleaner”.

I don’t want to seem critical but to identify cleaner air as the only “side benefit” is a wee bit myopic, isn’t it? Who needs cleaner air when you are having fun? Why in my youth I quaffed gallons of ethanol — sorry, grog — in bars that were so thick with smoke that you couldn’t see who was standing next to you and I was having fun. Lots and lots of fun.

I doubt very much if this breakthrough will be welcomed by those politicians who are ethanol advocates because their support is for ethanol which is mostly produced from sugar cane waste. I am a great supporter of the sugar industry not just because I am a loyal Queenslander but because I am partial now and again to a nip of Bundaberg rum.

But ethanol, which is produced by people with advanced degrees in science, wearing white coats and peering down microscopes is hardly likely to be given rapturous applause by the likes of Bob Katter. That’s a shame really because there can never be enough hooch to go around, can there?

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Russell Grenning

Russell Grenning is a Brisbane-based former journalist and retired political adviser who began his career with the ABC in 1968 in Brisbane and subsequently worked on the Brisbane afternoon daily, "The Telegraph" and later as a columnist for "The Courier Mail" and "The Australian". He worked for a string of senior Ministers in the Federal, Victorian and Queensland Governments as well as in senior executive public relations positions, including Assistant Federal Director, Public Relations, for Australia Post, Public Relations Manager for the Queensland Department of Main Roads and Principal Adviser, Corporate Relations, for the Queensland Law Society.

  1. Sounds great Russ. Could I run my car with this concoction though ? If it could come in
    at less than a dollar a litre and didn’t belch out heaps of carbon … then surely it could be
    successfully adapted for our cars towards the betterment of mankind ?
    Perhaps I’m being just a wee bit naive and silly though ?

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    My Bert liked a nip of Bundaberg OP from time to time and passed leaving a few bottles. Seems a shame to throw it out. I have wondered whether I could put it into my Barina.

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