ENERGY: by Patrick J. ByrneNews Weekly
A climate policy that is good for Australia
, February 6, 2010
If Australia is forced into an emissions-reduction policy by its trading partners, it should adopt policies that are good for the country's future, as well as reducing emissions.
Even if climate change sceptics can convince Australians that carbon dioxide (CO2) is not a pollutant, that it does not cause significant global warming and that cutting CO2 emissions in Australia will have virtually no effect on the world's emissions, some of Australia's big trading partners may demand that Australia have an emissions policy if we want to export to them.
The EU has indicated that it will not allow its industries paying carbon credits to be undermined by competing imports from countries that do not have a comparable emissions scheme. Under consideration is a requirement that such importers into the EU would be required to purchase carbon credits before their goods could enter the EU.
Rumblings in the US indicate that the Obama Administration, in the event that it introduces an emissions trading scheme, will make similar demands on imports.
Australian exporters are likely to be prime targets. According to World Bank data, Australia has one of the highest rates of CO2 emissions per person in the world, just below that of the US, whose emissions have stabilised. Japan and key EU countries are a third to a half Australia's per capita emissions, and generally falling. Australia's CO2 emissions have been rising since 1960.
Australia's major emissions are in power generation (49.9 per cent), transport (13.7 per cent) and agriculture (15.6 per cent).
Most of the emissions from manufacturing are in steel and aluminium production, and these could not be cut without closing these industries.
For an emissions policy to be credible, the solutions need to incorporate proven off-the-shelf technology. Ideally, they should also create new industries that will benefit the Australian economy.
To cut emissions in the short-term, gas and biofuels should be substituted for current transport fuels. In the longer-term, nuclear power should provide base-load power.Gas in cars
Contrary to popular belief, gaseous fuels have a higher energy density than liquid fuels, and, because they have a lower carbon fraction than liquid fuels, they also produce less CO2 on combustion.
Metering gaseous fuels in kilograms, or even megajoules, rather than litres at point of sale would overcome this perception. Fuel loads are already measured by mass in marine and aviation practice.
The domestic automotive industry should receive assistance to enhance the use of gas in place of petrol.
Liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) is a mix of butane and propane and is ideal for storage and use in light transport.
Liquefied natural gas (LNG) is basically methane. It is more difficult to liquefy, but offers good possibilities for larger vehicles, such as buses and trucks, which have larger spaces for storing LNG. LNG is too good a fuel to waste on generating electricity.
Australia has huge gas supplies.Biofuels
Ethanol from sugar cane is an energy-efficient means of producing a petrol substitute that cuts not only CO2 emissions, but also other dangerous "particulate matter" (also known as particle pollution) vehicle emissions. It is a renewable energy source, because sugar-cane uses CO2, and provides the feedstock for the next round of ethanol production.
Using the Dedini process for manufacturing ethanol from sugar cane, around 42 per cent of the Queensland sugar-cane crop could produce 10 per cent ethanol content in all Australian petrol-driven cars. The sugar-cane feed-stock is readily available, and new ethanol mills can be built relatively quickly, even onto the backs of existing sugar-cane mills.
Ethanol is already cheaper than petrol and would provide consumers with a wider choice of green products.
The means to establish a sustainable ethanol industry is to require 10 per cent ethanol in petrol, starting at (for example) 5 per cent and increasing the content over several years.
This can be done either as a government mandate or by raising the fuel emissions standards for Australia to the level of other developed nations.
Already, all modern cars can run on 10 per cent ethanol.
In the United States, General Motors and Ford are committed to having 85 per cent of their US fleet as flex-fuel vehicles, running on up to 85 per cent ethanol, by 2015.
Brazil has been the world leader in ethanol technology. As of 2005, Brazil had seven major car manufacturers (including Ford, Peugeot, Renault, Fiat, Volkswagen and General Motors) producing 31 models of flex-fuel vehicles that can run on a zero-to-100 per cent ethanol fuel-mix with petrol. As of 2005, flex-fuel cars made up 73 per cent of all light vehicles sold in Brazil.Non-options
Hydrogen-fuelled cars have been touted as alternatives, but they are not feasible yet.
Hydrogen has over three times the energy density of other liquid fuels used in motor vehicles. That makes it the fuel of choice for rockets.
However, hydrogen is difficult to liquefy, and it's difficult to store as the hydrogen molecule (H2) is so small that it leaks through ordinary seals.
Admittedly, it requires a feed-stock like petrol or ethanol to produce the hydrogen fuel. There is no proven technology for hydrogen-fuelled combustion engines.
Nor are electric cars a complete alternative. Their batteries can provide only about 100 km driving before needing to be recharged.
Moreover, the whole purpose of electric cars is completely self-defeating if their energy is supplied with coal-fired electricity! As CO2 emissions from petrol, diesel or LPG/LNG are many times lower than from electricity generated from coal, electric cars would be no advantage over internal combustion engine-powered equivalents.Nuclear power
If Australia really wants to cut its emissions, then nuclear power radically cuts CO2 emissions to zero. The reason that France has one-third the emissions per person that Australia has, is because 78 per cent of its power comes from 58 nuclear power stations.
As our coal-fired plants are ageing, Australia should commit to purchasing off-the-shelf nuclear technology as a starting point.
Expanded total electricity capacity from nuclear plants would allow for further CO2 emission reductions by replacing:
• a significant proportion of liquid fuel cars with electric cars in major urban centres;
• existing diesel-powered rail with high-speed electric rail transport;
• gas in home heating with electric heating.
Overseas, even the less obtuse members of the environmental movement are starting to wake up to the nuclear alternative as a means of reducing CO2 emissions.
In the longer term, Australia should be investing in fourth-generation nuclear technologies using the liquid fluoride thorium reactor (LFTR).
Australia has large deposits of both uranium and thorium. India leads the world in thorium technology, and plans by 2050 to have 30 per cent of its electricity generated by thorium reactors.
According to the World Nuclear Association, there are 435 nuclear reactors operating worldwide. Some 53 reactors are now under construction with another 136 in the planning stages. It says that about 430 new nuclear plants will be needed by 2030 to meet rising demand.
And, as we have mentioned, France has 58 nuclear power plants producing approximately 78 per cent of the nation's power.
The United States has 104 commercial nuclear-generating units, producing 19.6 per cent of the nation's electricity.
China has 11 working nuclear power stations and wants to raise its nuclear capacity to over 5 per cent of its electricity needs, or enough to power Spain.
The UK plans to build up to 10 new nuclear plants by 2020.
South Korean nuclear power plants produce 28 per cent of its electricity.
Even the United Arab Emirates, the world's third largest oil-exporter, has just signed a $US40 billion agreement to construct four nuclear reactors capable of producing 5,600 megawatts of electricity.
Germany, under the influence of its powerful Greens Party, had been committed to phasing out nuclear plants by 2022. However, commentators are suggesting that recent changes in energy policy indicate that the life of nuclear plants will be extended another 10 years.Renewables
The Rudd Government has pursued wind power and gas-fired plants for base-load power, and home/business-based solar energy use, as alternative sources of renewable electricity to lower CO2 emissions from coal-fired generators.
The government wind-power plan has assumed that, by building wind turbines across the continent, any region where the wind subsides can readily access power from regions where the wind is still blowing.
However, weather analyst Andrew Miskelly and physicist Tom Quirk tracked the power output of all the now quite substantial wind farms in South Australia, Victoria, NSW and Tasmania for every minute of June 2009. They found that when the wind stopped blowing in one state, it simultaneously stopped blowing in all four states they monitored. (The Australian,
August 8, 2009).
Consequently, coal-fired power stations have to operate at full capacity in case the wind stops blowing, at no net benefit for either power production or for reducing CO2 emissions.
Solar thermal power stations have also been proposed for Australia. There are about 16 operational around the world, but most are small, in the 50-100 megawatts range. Compare this to the Yallourn power station in Victoria, which has a 1,480 megawatts capacity.Geothermal power
According to Geosciences Australia, as of 2007 there were "no Hot Rock systems generating electricity on a commercial scale anywhere in the world, however the Landau Project in Germany is scheduled to be on-line in late 2007". It was to produce 2 megawatts. Since then, the project is being reassessed after it set off a small earthquake in August last year.
In Australia, geothermal hot spots are far from the major centres of population; hence seismic problems may not be of concern. However, delivering power to main grids will require long transmission lines.
Research investment in other technologies may be worthwhile. However, at their current stage of development, most other technologies under consideration cannot be shown to reliably and significantly reduce CO2 emissions comparable to using gas and biofuels for transport, biofuel-ready vehicles and nuclear base-load power.Patrick J. Byrne is vice-president of the National Civic Council.