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Australia has made commitments to achieve a 43% reduction in emissions based on 2005 levels by 2030 and to also achieve net zero by 2050. Whilst major investments in solar and wind assets are predicted to reduce power generation emissions from 35% to 21% by 2030, Transport has been largely ignored and emissions have actually been growing. By 2030 Transport emissions are predicted to become Australia’s largest source of emissions at 26%.

Whilst electric vehicles are making inroads into the market at 8% of light passenger vehicle sales, we have a long way to go before our entire vehicle fleet becomes electrified. To date there is virtually no electrification of heavy vehicles, and this approach is unlikely to ever be effective in shipping and aviation. To have a chance of meeting our emissions targets, Australia needs to implement a range of technology agnostic emission reduction pathways.

Green hydrogen is a theoretically zero emission fuel; however, to use it consumers have to buy new vehicles that can only operate on hydrogen. It is still expensive to manufacture and distribute and is not viable for rail, aviation or shipping at this time. The lack of hydrogen production and refuelling facilities combined with the cost of fuel cell electric vehicles has resulted in little progress. Today, six years after the release of the hydrogen roadmap:

  • CSIRO HyResearch lists only 6 operating green hydrogen refuelling stations with five under construction. There is still no business case for industry to provide such facilities without any hydrogen fuel cell vehicles on the road. Conversely, without refuelling infrastructure consumers will not buy the vehicles.
  • Sales of hybrid vehicles (HV) are growing faster than EV sales. In April 2024, HV represented 18% of all sales, an increase of 138% over the last 12 months and notably over 50% of Toyota total vehicle sales for the first time. They offer an immediate 30-50% fuel use and emission reduction which can be further improved by another 70-90% with LCLF.
  • Government commissioned modelling by Ernst & Young predicts a long-term demand for liquid fuels in Australia beyond 2050. Subject to the rate of investment and step change, it is predicted that there will still be a demand for 20 – 40 billion litres of transport liquid fuels in 2050 (50-90% of 2021 demand). Significantly this is not just jet fuel, but also petrol and diesel, representing 50-60% of total transport fuel demand.

Low carbon liquid fuels (LCLF) can substantially reduce emissions in the short term across the entire Transport sector.  Notably hydrogen is a key feedstock in many low carbon liquid fuels technologies. LCLF are easily adopted in all existing transport vehicles, achieve significant life cycle analysis emission reductions, and have the potential to establish hydrogen hubs with a local long-term offtake. LCLF production facilities are likely to be widely distributed, regionally in proximity to feedstocks such as waste biomass (straw from crops etc) and also in major cities in proximity to industry that produces greenhouse gas emissions such as carbon dioxide.

Government recognition of the importance of LCLF is increasing. There are currently two consultation papers out for public comment which TfA are reviewing.

Many manufacturers have also been looking to CCS as a key technology to address their carbon dioxide emissions, however it is not always viable. In some cases, the technology has had reliability and performance issues. In other areas such as regional Queensland, the Queensland Government has recently moved to ban CO2 injection into the Qld artesian basin.

An alternative is to combine CO2 with hydrogen for conversion into e-methanol, e-petrol, ethanol, renewable diesel and sustainable aviation fuel. Waste biomass can also be used as a feedstock and combined with hydrogen such as for the proposed HIF Global e-fuel plant at Burnie.

Already we are seeing proposed LCLF projects in proximity to proposed hydrogen hubs at Townsville (Jet Zero SAF) and Bell Bay (Abel Energy e-methanol). It is likely that most LCLF plants would be collocated with a hydrogen production facility. This would then present options for developing local additional markets and applications where hydrogen would not need to be transported long distances.

This creates a realistic opportunity to achieve quick effective emission reductions with a number added benefits:

  • Evidence based substantial emission reductions in all transport sectors in existing vehicles, trains, ships and aircraft.
  • No-one is left behind economically. Consumers are already moving to hybrid vehicles by choice as the cost-effective option which is much cheaper than electric vehicles.
  • Similar LCA emission reductions can be achieved in existing passenger vehicles with LCLF compared to battery electric vehicles recharging off renewable power.
  • Australia realises an economic opportunity to create a domestic sustainable fuel supply industry providing jobs and fuel security.
  • LCLF provide a unique accelerated growth path for hydrogen that would not be realised if hydrogen is pursued as the only alternative to electric vehicles and fossil fuels. Once hydrogen infrastructure is established to support the development of LCLF plants, this will create new opportunities for the use of hydrogen.
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