Call for more biofuels to keep trucks, utes on the road

Source: Marion Rae/AAP

Fuel giants are touting renewable diesel and sustainable aviation fuel as pragmatic short cuts to cutting Australia’s carbon footprint.

The so-called “drop-in” replacement fuels would support the immediate decarbonisation of farming, mining and other sectors, according to industry leaders at Australian Renewable Fuels Week.

The federal government was urged on Tuesday to dovetail into global standards rather than re-invent the wheel and end up with alternative fuels that can’t be widely used by planes, trains, haul trucks or on construction sites.

Truck Industry Council chief technical officer Mark Hammond said fuel tax credits could include biofuels to accelerate uptake.

BP vice-president Lisa Archbold said developing a homegrown renewable liquid fuel sector would help to secure Australia’s energy system and strengthen critical industries

“We know that the drop-in solution works … while electrification does have a role to play in the future, renewable fuels are here,” she said.

She said renewable diesel was successfully trialled last year in the Pilbara in Western Australia to cut emissions from remote mining operations with no change in equipment or processes.

Rio Tinto biofuel procurement executive Willem du Plessis said battery technology did not have the energy density required for heavy equipment, so widespread deployment of electric trucks was unlikely this decade.

“The use of drop-in replacement fuels like renewable diesel allow us to reduce emissions right now,” he said.

The mining heavyweight plans to replace 11 per cent of its diesel consumption with renewable diesel by mid-year, while work continues on electrification.

Opening the conference, Transport Minister Catherine King said renewable diesel and biofuels would have a role “for many years”, particularly in long-haul freight.

Although there have been advances in electric and hydrogen technologies, she said low-carbon liquid fuels can be used in conventional internal combustion engines, to varying degrees.

“As such they will play a key role in our clean energy future,” she said.

ExxonMobil Australia executive director Bruce Sutherland said electric vehicles and hybrids had a role to play but other vehicles could also operate more efficiently.

“I believe it is equally important to figure out how to reduce the emissions that come from millions of cars, trucks, planes and trains that currently run on liquid fuels,” he said.

“We believe the lowest cost option to reduce transportation emissions is a low-carbon fuel standard.”

Such a standard would measure the entire life cycle of emissions from those vehicles and their energy source, regardless of whether the vehicle has a tailpipe.

Deputy US Chief of Mission Erika Olson said one of the ways to make a difference was to increase use of sustainable aviation fuel.

The US and Australia are top emitters per capita from domestic aviation and Olson said the US was “strongly committed” to producing more of the fuel with industry partners.

Hosting the conference, Bioenergy Australia chief executive Shahana McKenzie said a domestic renewable fuels sector could add $110 billion to GDP by 2030, create 28,000 jobs and help many regional communities to transition.

Shipping expert Allen Dobie said the United Kingdom and North America enjoy “near parity” on cost compared to heavy fuel oil, with Australian users stuck paying a green premium unless there were changes to government policies and carbon markets.


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