Australia gears up for future transport fuels

Australian transport experts have published the results of a year-long project looking at how the sector can address the environmental and economic challenges arising from its dependence on fossil fuels.

The Future Fuels Forum was set up by national science agency CSIRO to establish a series of scenarios through which Australia could establish a secure and sustainable transport fuel mix between now and 2050. Partners are drawn from a wide range of organisations with an interest in the sector.

Their report, ‘Fuel for thought’ addresses two issues: the need to dramatically reduce the transport sector’s greenhouse gas emissions and how to deal with the economic risks associated with increasingly costly and scarce oil supplies.

Dr John Wright, director of CSIRO’s Energy Transformed Flagship research initiative, said Australia’s transport fuel mix will substantially change in response to issues such as climate change and oil prices. “Securing access to affordable and sustainable fuel underpins Australia’s economy and way of life and as a nation with relatively high vehicle use, we are vulnerable to the economic, environmental and social impacts of rising oil prices and rising temperatures,” he said.

The Forum believes Australia’s fuel mix will shift in the near term to include the expanded use of diesel, gaseous fuels such as LPG and hybrid electric vehicles, with even greater diversity beyond 2020 that might include hydrogen, synthetic fuels from coal or gas and advanced biofuels that will not impact food production.

The scenarios it developed have been subjected to advanced modelling and assessment that members claim have provided significant insights into the potential impacts of climbing oil prices and the inclusion of fuel in the government’s emissions trading scheme.

Although the future price of oil is uncertain, one of the Forum’s models suggests that if production peaks, prices could climb as high as A$8 per litre by 2018 in the most extreme case.

“This outcome could result in significant social impacts that are likely to adversely affect low income Australians,” said Wright. “Results such as this could be seen as a catalyst for early action on the development and roll-out of alternative fuel options, low emission vehicle technologies and infrastructure that supports sustainable transport.”

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