Australians could have saved over $1 billion in fuel if car emissions standards were introduced 3 years ago



Legislative action regarding vehicle emissions is overdue, and needs urgent attention by the federal government.
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Robin Smit, The University of Queensland; Jake Whitehead, The University of Queensland, and Nic Surawski, University of Technology Sydney

When it comes to road transport, Australia is at risk of becoming a climate villain as we lag behind international best practice on fuel efficiency.

Road transport is one of the main sources of greenhouse gas emissions and represented 16% of Australia’s total carbon dioxide emissions in 2000, growing to 21% in 2016. Total CO₂ emissions from road transport increased by almost 30% in the period 2000-16.

Fuel efficiency (CO₂ emission) standards have been adopted in around 80% of the global light vehicle market to cap the growth of transport emissions. This includes the United States, the European Union, Canada, Japan, China, South Korea and India – but not Australia.




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Emissions standards on cars will save Australians billions of dollars, and help meet our climate targets


If Australia had introduced internationally harmonised emissions legislation three years ago, households could have made savings on fuel costs to the tune of A$1 billion.

This shocking figure comes from our preliminary calculations looking at the effect of requiring more efficient vehicles to be sold in Australia.

A report, published yesterday by Transport Energy/Emission Research, looked at what Australia has achieved in vehicle fuel efficiency and CO₂ standards over the past 20 years. While Australia has considered and tried to impose standards a number of times, sadly these attempts were unsuccessful.

Legislative action on vehicle CO₂ emissions is long overdue and demands urgent attention by the Australian government.

Australian consumers are increasingly buying heavier vehicles with bigger emissions.
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How did Australia get here?

The most efficient versions of vehicle models offered in Australia are considerably less efficient than similar vehicles in other markets.

Australia could increasingly become a dumping ground for the world’s least efficient vehicles with sub-par emissions performance, given our lack of fuel efficiency standards. This leaves us on a dangerous path towards not only higher vehicle emissions, but also higher fuel costs for passenger travel and freight.

Australia has attempted to impose CO₂ or fuel efficiency standards on light vehicles several times over the past 20 years, but without success. While the federal government was committed to addressing this issue in 2015, four years later we are still yet to hear when – or even if – mandatory fuel efficiency standards will ever be introduced.

The general expectation appears to be that average CO₂ emission rates of new cars in Australia will reduce over time as technology advances overseas. In the absence of CO₂ standards locally, it is more likely that consumers will continue to not be offered more efficient cars, and pay higher fuel costs as a consequence.

Estimating the fuel savings

Available evidence suggests Australian motorists are paying on average almost 30% more for fuel than they should because of the lack of fuel efficiency standards.

The Australian vehicle fleet uses about 32 billion litres of fuel per year.

Using an Australian fleet model described in the TER report, we can make a conservative estimate that the passenger vehicle fleet uses about half of this fuel: 16 billion litres per year. New cars entering the fleet each year would represent about 5% of this: 800 million litres per year.

So assuming that mandatory CO₂ standards improve fuel efficiency by 27%, fuel savings would be 216 million litres per year.

In the last three years, the average fuel price across Australia’s five major cities is A$1.33 per litre. This equates to a total savings of A$287 million per year, although this would be about half the first year as new cars are purchased throughout the year and travel less, and would reduce as vehicles travel less when they age.

The savings are accumulative because a car purchased in a particular year continues to save fuel over the following years.

The table below shows a rough calculation of savings over the three year period (2016-2018), for new cars sold in the same period (Model Years 2016, 2017 and 2018).

As a result, over a period of three years, A$1.3 billion in potential savings for car owners would have accumulated.

Policy has come close, but what are we waiting for?

The Australian government is not progressing any measures to introduce a fuel efficiency target. In fact, it recently labelled Labor’s proposed fuel efficiency standard as a “car tax”.

But Australia has come close to adopting mandatory vehicle CO₂ emission standards in the past.

In late 2007, the Labor government committed to cutting emissions to achieve Australia’s obligations under the Kyoto Protocol. The then prime minister, Kevin Rudd, instructed the Vehicle Efficiency Working Group to:

… develop jointly a package of vehicle fuel efficiency measures designed to move Australia towards international best practice.

Then, in 2010, the Labor government decided mandatory CO₂ emissions standards would apply to new light vehicles from 2015. But a change in government in 2013 meant these standards did not see the light of day.

The amount of fuel that could have been saved is A$287 million per year.
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Things looked promising again when the Coalition government released a Vehicle Emissions Discussion Paper in 2016, followed by a draft Regulation Impact Statement in the same year.

The targets for adopting this policy in 2025, considered in the draft statement, were marked as “strong” (105g of CO₂ per km), “medium” (119g/km) and “mild” (135g/km) standards.

Under all three targets, there would be significant net cost savings. But since 2016, the federal government has taken no further action.

It begs the question: what exactly are we waiting for?

The technical state of play

Transport Energy/Emission Research conducted preliminary modelling of Australian real-world CO₂ emissions.

This research suggests average CO₂ emission rates of the on-road car fleet in Australia are actually increasing over time and are, in reality, higher than what is officially reported in laboratory emissions tests.

In fact, the gap between mean real-world emissions and the official laboratory tests is expected to grow from 20% in 2010 to 65% in 2025.

This gap is particularly concerning when we look at the lack of support for low-emissions vehicles like electric cars.




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Why battery-powered vehicles stack up better than hydrogen


Given that fleet turnover is slow, the benefits of fuel efficiency standards would only begin to have a significant effect several years into the future.

With continuing population growth, road travel will only increase further. This will put even more pressure on the need to reduce average real-world CO₂ emission rates, given the increasing environmental and health impacts of the vehicle fleet.

Even if the need to reduce emissions doesn’t convince you, the cost benefits of emissions standards should. The sale of less efficient vehicles in Australia means higher weekly fuel costs for car owners, which could be avoided with the introduction of internationally harmonised emissions legislation.The Conversation

Robin Smit, Adjunct professor, The University of Queensland; Jake Whitehead, Research Fellow, The University of Queensland, and Nic Surawski, Lecturer in Environmental Engineering, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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If we can’t recycle it, why not turn our waste plastic into fuel?



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Could this be turned into fuel, instead of just more plastic?
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Muxina Konarova, The University of Queensland

Australia’s recycling crisis needs us to look into waste management options beyond just recycling and landfilling. Some of our waste, like paper or organic matter, can be composted. Some, like glass, metal and rigid plastics, can be recycled. But we have no immediate solution for non-recyclable plastic waste except landfill.

At a meeting last month, federal and state environment ministers endorsed an ambitious target to make all Australian packaging recyclable, compostable or reusable by 2025. But the ministers also showed support for processes to turn our waste into energy, although they did not specifically discuss plastic waste as an energy source.




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A crisis too big to waste: China’s recycling ban calls for a long-term rethink in Australia


The 100% goal could easily be achieved if all packaging were made of paper or wood-based materials. But realistically, plastic will continue to dominate our packaging, especially for food, because it is moisture-proof, airtight, and hygienic.

Most rigid plastic products can only be recycled a few times before they lose their original properties and become non-recyclable. Even in European countries with strict waste management strategies, only 31% of plastic waste is recycled.

Worldwide plastic production is predicted to increase by 3.8% every year until 2030. Flexible, non-recyclable plastic materials are used in an increasing range of applications like packaging, 3D printing, and construction.

We need to expand our range of options for keeping this plastic waste out of landfill. One potential approach is “plastic to energy”, which unlocks the chemical energy stored in waste plastic and uses it to create fuel.

How plastic to energy works

Plastic is made from refined crude oil. Its price and production are dictated by the petrochemical industry and the availability of oil. As oil is a finite natural resource, the most sustainable option would be to reduce crude-oil consumption by recycling the plastic and recovering as much of the raw material as possible.

There are two types of recycling: mechanical and chemical. Mechanical recycling involves sorting, cleaning and shredding plastic to make pellets, which can then be fashioned into other products. This approach works very well if plastic wastes are sorted according to their chemical composition.

Chemical recycling, in contrast, turns the plastic into an energy carrier or feedstock for fuels. There are two different processes by which this can be done: gasification and pyrolysis.

Gasification involves heating the waste plastic with air or steam, to produce a valuable industrial gas mixtures called “synthesis gas”, or syngas. This can then be used to produce diesel and petrol, or burned directly in boilers to generate electricity.

In pyrolysis, plastic waste is heated in the absence of oxygen, which produces mixture of oil similar to crude oil. This can be further refined into transportation fuels.

One of the advantages of plastic waste-to-fuel is that plastic doesn’t have to be separated into different types.
Author provided

Gasification and pyrolysis are completely different processes to simply incinerating the plastic. The main goal of incineration is simply to destroy the waste, thus keeping it out of landfill. The heat released from incineration might be used to produce steam to drive a turbine and generate electricity, but this is only a by-product.

Gasification and pyrolysis can produce electricity or fuels, and provide more flexible ways of storing energy than incineration. They also have much lower emissions of sulfur and nitrogen oxides than incineration.

Currently, incineration plants are viewed as an alternative energy supply source and a modern way of driving a circular economy, particularly in Japan, South Korea and China, where land is valuable and energy resources are scarce. In other countries, although waste incineration is common practice, the debate around human health impacts, supply issues and fuel trade incentives remains unresolved.

Can Australia embrace plastic to waste?

Gasification of plastic waste needs significant initial financing. It requires pre-treatment, cleanup facilities, gas separation units, and advanced control systems. Pyrolysis units, on the other hand, can be modular and be installed to process as little as 10,000 tonnes per year – a relatively small amount in waste management terms. Plastic pyrolysis plants have already been built in the UK, Japan and the United States.

As pyrolysis and gasification technologies can only process plastics, many councils do not see major advantages in using them. But by taking only a specific waste stream, they encourage better waste sorting and help to reduce the flow of mixed waste and plastic litter.




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The recycling crisis in Australia: easy solutions to a hard problem


Australia has invested a serious amount of funding into research, particularly in waste conversion. It has a solid industrialised infrastructure and a highly skilled workforce. The current recycling crisis offers an opportunity to explore some innovative ways of turning our waste into valuable products.

There are direct job opportunities in plastic conversion plants, and indirect jobs around installation, maintenance and distribution of energy and fuels. We might even see jobs in R&D to explore other waste conversion technologies.

The ConversationIn the meantime, the plastic we send to landfill is damaging our environment and harming wildlife. That needs to change, and Australia should consider plastic waste-to-energy as part of that change.

Muxina Konarova, Advanced Queensland Research Fellow, The University of Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Explainer: how do we make hydrogen from coal, and is it really a clean fuel?


Jessica Allen, University of Newcastle

Energy giant AGL this week unveiled plans to produce hydrogen power at its Loy Yang A coal station. But how do we transform coal, which is often thought of as simply made of carbon, into hydrogen – a completely different element?

In fact, coal is not just made of carbon. It also contains other elements, one of which is hydrogen. But to get a lot of hydrogen, the coal needs to be “gasified” rather than burned, creating compounds that can then be reacted with water to make hydrogen. This is where the majority of hydrogen comes from in this case – not from the coal itself.




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Why is hydrogen fuel making a comeback?


What is coal made of?

In simple terms, coal is a mixture of two components: carbon-based matter (the decayed remains of prehistoric vegetation) and mineral matter (which comes from the ground from which the coal is dug). The carbon-based matter is composed of five main elements: carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen and sulfur.

You can think of coal’s formation process as a progression from biomass (newly dead plant matter) to charcoal (almost pure carbon). Over time, the oxygen and some hydrogen are gradually removed, leaving more and more carbon behind.

Brown coal thus contains slightly more hydrogen than black coal, although the biggest difference between the two is in their carbon and oxygen contents.

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/HUgdy/2/

What is gasification?

We can understand gasification by first understanding combustion. Combustion, or burning, is the complete oxidation of a fuel such as coal, a process that produces heat and carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide itself cannot be further oxidised, and thus is the non-combustible end product of the burning process.

In gasification, however, the coal is not completely oxidised. Instead, the coal is reacted with a compound called a gasification agent. Gasification is endothermic, which means it doesn’t produce heat. Quite the opposite, in fact – it needs heat input to progress. Because the resulting gas is not fully oxidised, that means it can itself be burned as a fuel.

So how do we make hydrogen?

Now we know the key concepts, let’s start again at the start. To produce hydrogen from coal, the process begins with partial oxidation, which means some air is added to the coal, which generates carbon dioxide gas through traditional combustion. Not enough is added, though, to completely burn the coal – only enough to make some heat for the gasification reaction. The partial oxidation also makes its own gasification agent, carbon dioxide.

Carbon dioxide reacts with the rest of the carbon in the coal to form carbon monoxide (this is the endothermic gasification reaction, which needs heat input). No hydrogen yet.

Carbon monoxide in the gas stream is now further reacted with steam, generating hydrogen and carbon dioxide. Now we are making some hydrogen. The hydrogen can then be run through an on-site fuel cell to generate high-efficiency electricity, although the plan at Loy Yang A is to pressurise the hydrogen and ship it off to Japan for their Olympic showcase.

Making hydrogen from coal.
J. Allen

Brown coals are generally preferred for gasification over black coals for several reasons, which makes the brown coal of Victoria’s Latrobe Valley a good prospect for this process.

The main reason is that, because of the high oxygen content of this type of coal, it is less chemically stable and therefore easier to break apart during the gasification reaction. Plus there is a small boost from the hydrogen that is already present in the coal.

Hydrogen produced in this way is not a zero-emission fuel. Carbon dioxide is emitted through the combustion and thermal decomposition reactions, and is also a product of the reaction between carbon monoxide and water to make hydrogen and carbon dioxide.

So why bother making hydrogen?

When hydrogen is used as a fuel, it releases only water as a byproduct. This makes it a zero-emission clean fuel, at least at the point of use.

Producing hydrogen from coal in a large, central facility means pollution control can be put in place. Particulates, and potentially carbon dioxide, can be removed from the gas stream very efficiently.

This is not possible on a small scale, such as hanging off the back of your car. Road transport currently emits dangerous levels of pollutants in our cities every day.




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Gasification processes that use hydrogen fuel cells on site can substantially increase their efficiency compared with traditional coal-fired power. However, depending on the end-use of the hydrogen, and subsequent transport processes, you might be better off in terms of energy output, or efficiency (and therefore carbon emissions), just straight-up burning the coal to make electricity.

But by using gasification of coal to make hydrogen, we can start building much-needed infrastructure and developing consumer markets (that is, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles) for a truly clean future fuel.

The ConversationI predict that hydrogen power will be zero-emission one day. It can be made in a variety of ways through pure water splitting (including electrolysis, or through solar thermochemical and photoelectrochemical technologies, to name a few). It’s not there yet in terms of price or practicality, but it is certainly on its way. Boosting development of the hydrogen economy through production from coal in the meantime is, in my book, not a terrible idea overall.

Jessica Allen, Researcher and Lecturer in Low and Zero Emission Energy, University of Newcastle

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Australia: NSW – Solid Fuel Fires Banned Until Further Notice


The link below is to a media release concerning the banning of solid fuel fires in State Forests throughout NSW due to bushfire concerns.

For more visit:
http://www.forestrycorporation.com.au/about/releases/solid-fuel-fires-banned-in-state-forests

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Emissions standards on cars will save Australians billions of dollars, and help meet our climate targets



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An emissions cap could save Australians up to A$500 each year in fuel costs.
Petrol image from http://www.shutterstock.com

Scott Ferraro, Monash University and Claire Painter, Monash University

The cheapest way for Australia to cut greenhouse gas emissions is to put a cap on car emissions. It would be so cheap, in fact, that it will save drivers money. The Conversation

According to analysis from ClimateWorks, the toughest proposed standard would help Australia achieve about 6% of its 2030 emission reduction target, and save drivers up to A$500 each year on fuel.

The federal government is looking at policy options to meet Australia’s 2030 emissions target of 26-28% below 2005 levels. Last year it established a ministerial forum to look at vehicle emissions and released a draft Regulation Impact Statement for light vehicles (cars, SUVs, vans and utilities) in December.

There is no reason for the government to delay putting the most stringent emissions standard on cars.

Cars getting cleaner, but not in Australia

Australia currently does not have carbon dioxide emission standards on light vehicles. CO₂ standards work by improving the overall efficiency of the vehicle (the amount of CO₂ emitted per kilometre). These are different from fuel quality standards, which regulate the quality of fuels used by vehicles, and noxious emissions standards, which monitor a car’s emissions of noxious gases and particulates.

Currently, CO₂ emission standards cover over 80% of the global light automotive market. The lack of standards here means that Australia’s cars are less efficient than in many other countries, and this gap is set to widen.

In 2015, the average efficiency of new cars sold in Australia (in grams of CO₂ emitted per km) was 184g per km. In the European Union, the average efficiency of new cars was 120g per km for passenger vehicles and 168g per km for light commercial vehicles (such as vans used as couriers). In the United States – the spiritual home of the gas-guzzler – it is 183g per km and set to improve to 105g per km in 2025.

Australia’s cars account for about 10% of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions, which are set to grow to 2030 if the market is left to its own devices.

Helping meet Australia’s climate target

In our submission to the draft Regulation Impact Statement, we confirmed that if the most stringent proposed target (105g per km) were introduced as proposed from 2020 to 2025, it would deliver 6% of Australia’s 2030 emissions reduction target. This would save A$49 per tonne of CO₂. Although there would be some costs in introducing the scheme, it would save A$13.9 billion by 2040 overall.

This saves an extra additional 41 million tonnes of CO₂ by 2030, 140 million tonnes by 2040, and an extra A$8.1 billion overall by 2040 compared with the least stringent proposed target (135g per km by 2025).

However, we found that a two-year delay would add an extra 18 million tonnes of CO₂ to the atmosphere, or 2% of the government’s 2030 carbon budget.

Any reductions not achieved in vehicle emissions will need to be made up in other sectors, or purchased through international carbon permits, most likely at a higher cost.

Savings on fuel and health

The most stringent target delivers A$27.5 billion in total fuel savings by 2040, A$16.7 billion more than the least stringent standard.

The draft regulations show that for an average car this is equal to a saving of A$197-295 a year for a driver doing 15,000km per year, and A$328-493 for a driver doing 25,000km per year.

To put this in context, based on 2012 household energy costs data, this would cut household energy costs by up to 10%, with even greater savings for low-income households.

But a two-year delay of the most stringent standard would also result in new car owners paying an extra A$4.9 billion in fuel costs by 2030, and an extra A$8.3 billion to 2040.

The reduction in fuel use will also potentially reduce air pollution, resulting in better health outcomes.

The most stringent standard will save deliver 2.6 times as much fuel as the least stringent standard, so should reduce health costs by a similar proportion. However, the introduction of emissions standards would need to occur in a way that does not increase noxious emissions such as nitrogen oxides.

No reason to delay

Given the enormous benefit of a more stringent standard, the government should also investigate an even more ambitious target.

Our research shows a standard of 95g per km by 2025 will deliver even greater benefits and is technically feasible based on achievements in other markets. The EU is aiming for this level by 2020.

While we also support improving fuel quality to reduce noxious emissions, research by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) shows that we do not need to improve Australia’s fuel quality standards before the introduction of standards to improve the overall efficiency of the vehicle.

Similarly, despite discrepancies between on-road and in-lab performance of vehicles as seen in the Volkswagen emissions scandal, a standard will still provide significant savings to consumers and the environment.

Standards alone are not the silver bullet. We’ll need a range of other measures to support emissions standards on cars to help improve efficiency and build consumer awareness of fuel-efficient vehicles.

With Australian car manufacturing due to cease by the end of 2017, it is an ideal time to ensure that new cars bought into Australia are the most efficient available. This will set us on the path towards lower vehicle emissions while reducing costs for motorists and improving health.

Scott Ferraro, Head of Implementation, ClimateWorks Australia, Monash University and Claire Painter, Project manager, ClimateWorks Australia, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Coal Ship Runs Aground on the Great Barrier Reef


The Great Barrier Reef on Australia’s northern east coast off Queensland has been hit by a Chinese Coal Carrier. The ship ran aground on a shoal some 70km east of Great Keppel Island, while it was steaming full ahead, while being off course (possibly taking a short cut). The ship is carrying something like 65 000 tonnes of coal, but the main danger for the reef from the ship is its fuel oil, which has already begun to leak.

The Shen Neng 1 is now in danger of breaking up and causing an environmental disaster, should all of its fuel oil spill into the ocean. There are great fears for the Great Barrier Reef should this happen.

For more see the videos below: