ENERGY: by Patrick J. ByrneNews Weekly
Time for a new Coalition emissions policy
, December 12, 2009
Tony Abbott has promised that the Coalition will have a climate change policy at the next election. The Coalition should approach this via a new energy policy - a combination of biofuels and the expanded use of gas, renewables and nuclear energy.
This would create new industries and jobs at a time when the world economy remains fragile.
They are especially needed today because of the impending electricity shortages, and would mitigate Australia's growing reliance on imported fuel - and provide a far more sensible emissions policy for the Coalition.
Biofuels tend towards being carbon-neutral. This means that the amount of carbon dioxide emitted from burning a biofuel like ethanol is reabsorbed into the sugar-cane crop that produces the next round of ethanol. In other words, burning biofuels adds little net carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.
Using natural gas, and the new forms of gas like coal-seam gas, also reduces carbon dioxide emissions. These fuels produce considerably lower emissions when used for electricity production compared to burning coal in power stations.
Australia's fuel imports are unsustainable. Even at US$50 a barrel, Australia's net imports of crude and refined fuel are likely to reach $27 billion a year by 2015, twice the 2005-06 deficit of $12.8 billion, according to Belinda Robinson, chief executive of the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA).
Australia's oil reserves are running down. Although incentives for expanding exploration have been put in place, new oil reserves can take years to find and be developed into sustainable production fields.
Given Australia's burgeoning foreign debt, it is vital for Australia to become far more reliant in domestic fuel. Biofuels could play an important role in helping Australia achieve greater self-reliance.
To that end, government should mandate that sugar-cane-based ethanol should make up 5 per cent of fuel, that proportion being raised to 10 per cent over the following few years. Further, there should be variable-mix hoses at fuel pumps, allowing fuel consisting of up to 85 per cent ethanol to be made available to consumers, as happens in Brazil.
Diverting about 40 per cent of Australia's approximate 400,000 hectares of cane-sugar production to ethanol would provide 10 per cent ethanol in fuel, using the most efficient processing technology currently available.Health considerations
The Australian Medical Association has strongly backed 10 per cent ethanol in petrol and 20 per cent biodiesel in diesel fuel.
University of Sydney infectious diseases expert Professor Ray Kearney says that 10 per cent ethanol content in petrol would cut dangerous emissions in half. Diesel with 15 per cent ethanol (diesohol) would cut particulate matter emissions by 35-50 per cent.
Professor Kearney estimates that vehicle pollution alone costs Sydney $2-3 billion annually, with about 1,400 Australians dying each year from vehicle pollutants.
Queensland's sugar industry has been battered by low world prices (although prices are currently up), following deregulation that saw the loss of a domestic price for sugar and of the sugar single-selling desk. A mandated ethanol policy would be a major boost to the industry, creating a beneficial flow-on effect into the wider economy.
Australia has huge deposits of natural gas capable of supplying Australia long into the future. Australia is also rapidly developing coal-seam gas production capabilities, which are currently in the process of being brought on-stream in NSW's Hunter Valley and Queensland's Surat Basin.
However, Australia is yet to catch up with the United States, which is developing shale gas and tight sands gas.
Due to new technologies, the U.S. has rapidly increased these forms of gas supply such that now these new forms of supply surpass each of the traditional onshore conventional gas supply and offshore conventional gas supply.
Instead of the U.S. becoming a large importer of gas energy, it has become an exporter of liquid natural gas (LNG).
While gas is piped for home use and electricity generation, it requires more infrastructure to be delivered for motor vehicle use, and cars have to be manufactured or converted to use gas.
For motor vehicles, ethanol has the advantage that it can easily be mixed and stored with petrol and delivered at the pump. Existing delivery infrastructure can do the job or can be easily modified.
Modern motor vehicles are designed to run on 10 per cent ethanol, while car-makers have the technology to produce cars capable of taking higher ethanol fuel.
Finally, European countries like Germany and the UK are moving towards nuclear energy once again, ironically because of the push to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions.
Nuclear power stations produce no carbon dioxide in generating electricity, and Australia has a considerable proportion of the world's uranium resources.