Can livestock transporters move away from fossil fuels?

Eric Barker, 27/03/2024

LIVESTOCK transporters have highlighted some of the harsh truths and opportunities brought about by growing corporate and political pressure to reduce emissions.

Last week’s livestock transporters conference in Toowoomba heard plenty about fossil fuel companies pulling back on investment with uncertainty about what is ahead, which is pushing a new norm in the market for one of the industry’s biggest costs.

But reducing and moving away from fossil fuels is a difficult prospect for the livestock transport industry, with trucks needing to travel long distances through remote areas on the roughest roads in the country.

The conference heard wide about some potential diesel replacements.

In the opening session, Australian Trucking Association chief executive officer Mathew Munro said it was important to note how ambitious the Federal Government targets of 43pc emissions reduction by 2030 and net zero by 2050 were for the industry.

“We can’t meet those targets on our own, we can contribute, but we can’t get there,” Mr Munro said.

“Our best guess at the moment is that we might be able to go somewhere between 12 and 15pc.”

Mr Munro said the industry was not able to meet the 2030 target through uptake of low carbon vehicles and needed to work with current technology if it was any chance of complying.

“It is going to have to be through other measures we can do already, like higher productivity vehicles which move the same freight around through a lower carbon footprint or renewable diesel, which we can use in the current vehicles with a lower footprint.”

The transport industry is one of six sectors that will need to work with the Federal Government to come up with a net zero plan – agriculture has been the first cab off the rank. Mr Munro said ATA will be working with the livestock transporters to make a submission.

Used cooking oil attracting investment

Renewable diesel from sources like used canola oil or soybean oil was a big part of discussions. Mr Munro said while it had potential, it was going to struggle with scaling up.

“Renewable diesel is chemically identical to real diesel, it is just made artificially, and you can use it in your vehicles now because it won’t know the difference,” he said.

“It has real potential, but the issue is that you need to source materials make it and the reality there won’t be enough to go around in the short-term.”

Mr Munro said renewable diesel was more expensive, which someone needed to pay for and the industry was facing a lot of questions about how to make it available.

“If we have big operators wanting to be carbon neutral to please their investors then they will gobble up all the product,” he said.

“The other option is mandate a minimum content, which would mean everyone has to do there fair share but is an artificial market intervention and we need to think hard if we want that.”

BP Australia’s business development and integration advisor Chris Leat said of 100 different “bioenergy pathways” renewable diesel or HVO (hydrotreaded vegetable oil) was the most viable for heavy vehicles.

“In the development of a commercial business mode for HVO we are going to have to rely heavily on Government, with the adoption of policies, subsidies, different incentives and communication of what HVO can do,” he said.

“Arena have identified that 10pc of diesel supply can be displaced by HVO in the future.”

The company recently ran a trial in Western Australia with mining company BHP, which used diesel blended with 50pc HVO – Mr Leat said it was successful.

On supply constraints, Mr Leat said BP was redeveloping a closed refinery at Kwinana in Western Australia – with HVO making up a component of the new output.

Cautious optimism for hyrdrogen trucks

Many at the conference were also not writing off the potential for hydrogen trucks in the future if some key issues were sorted out with the technology – which has heavy fuel tanks and some issues with storage.

New Zealand-based HW Richardson has started transitioning its fleet over to hydrogen, by making its own hydrogen fuel station and retrofitting hydrogen tanks to its trucks. Group general manager innovation Gareth Wishart said the hydrogen hybrids were only using 40pc of the normal diesel requirements.

“We inject the hydrogen directly into the air intake of the truck, it is electronically controlled so you can control exactly how much hydrogen you put into the air intake and the engine depending on fuel needs at the time,” Mr Wishart said.

“Then as an electric system it will either back off the diesel injection and when you run out of hydrogen it goes back to being a diesel truck.”

Mr Wishart said the move into hydrogen hybrids was in response to customers asking about the low emissions transport and offering incentives. He said the company will continue to respond to market demand, whether that is Government or corporate led.

The panel spoke about several issues with hydrogen that industry would need to sort out, mainly to do with infrastructure more than trucks. Hydrogen trucks are heavier than diesel trucks, fuel needs to be kept cool and more needs to be known about costs.

Panels cold on electric trucks

Mr Munro put out a blunt message about electric vehicles.

“We already have EVs, they are on the road now, they are a real option and for some applications they are quite good,” he said.

“But for heavier long-distance transport, they are just not the solution at this point.”

Australasian Convenience & Petroleum Marketers Association CEO Mark McKenzie was also blunt in his comments about electric trucks.

“We are whistling dixie if we think we are going to have battery electric drive trains and fuel cell electric trucks in the fleet, I will go as far as to say we won’t see it for 20 years,” he said.

“There is a sense here that Government policy is being led by ideology and not by sound engineering and economic fact – but that does not preclude the fact that we have to reduce emissions.

“At the moment, the cost of installing an electric vehicle charger on a service station for a car, which will give me about 400km in 20 minutes, costs about $150,000 for the kit and the install. Then I am going to have to pay the grid operator $300,000-$500,000 to give me enough power to utilise and that is something no one is talking about.”


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  1. Peter Dunn, 27/03/2024

    Can someone please explain (no pun intended) why rural industries continue to knock themselves out because those industries “need to work with the Federal Government to come up with a net zero plan”, when the Federal Government has no hope whatsoever of meeting its 2030 targets, with or without any industry net zero plans. Most significantly, industries need to focus on whether the Federal Government will in fact still be in power in 2030, or indeed for how many years before then. To borrow a well-used quote, ‘when the government changes, the country changes’. If the government were to change before 2030, would all of the money and effort expended on government environmental wish lists, have been pointlessly squandered? It would be highly surprising if farmers could not put those same funds to a more productive and practical use. The current Federal Government has always put its ideological goals and political survival well ahead of farmers, their families, and their farms. Putting families ahead of ‘falling into line’ is a thought !!

    • bill nicholas, 30/03/2024

      the ice is melting. how is it going to affect farmers

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