The transport fuel supply problem
Our transport fuels, e.g. gasoline, diesel, kerosene and LPG are hydrocarbon fuels obtained from petroleum and natural gas which are processed at our refineries, or in some cases imported as the refined product.
Our present high standard of living is due to a century or more using these wonderful fuels instead of the previous transport use of horses, mules, oxen, camels, llamas and other beasts of burden, and coal-burning locomotives. Technological progress over the past 100 years has been astounding.
We can say for sure that technology will continue to improve and expand over the next 100 years if allowed to do so. The problem is that Governments tend to think they know what's best and get in the way of sensible development. Often they get carried away following some religious ideal which may garner more votes thinking it might help them to stay in power.
An example of such confused thinking is Labor's Renewable Energy Target Bill which specifies a target of 20% electricity being generated from renewable energy sources by 2020. Besides being impossible, this move distorts energy development by giving subsidies for unnecessary R&D for wind, solar, geothermal projects which are the most costly and inefficient ways of generating electricity and ignores any potential transport fuel problem.
The most important move the Australian Government must do is allow the development of the nuclear power industry. We could do with a 1000 MW nuclear power station in each of the five large mainland states (QLD, NSW, VIC, SA, WA) to provide a secure, weatherproof, base load electricity supply, plus we need to explore the use of mini-nuclear power stations (50 - 100 MW) to supply electricity for outback mining and agricultural developments distant from the national grid.
It is very important for economic development to have an ample supply of dependable electricity everywhere. Building wind farms and solar plants is not very sensible and is only a sop to the Greens.
Developing nuclear power stations would help cap the use of diesel fuel because we could electrify the major city metro rail and convert some long distance rail, and coal, iron ore transport to electrification. In the cities light rail and trams would gradually replace diesel buses.
Mining and agriculture are greatly dependent on the availability of cheap diesel fuel. Let's not waste what we have got if there is a sensible way of avoiding it. The on-farm production of biodiesel from canola and mustard seed oils is an interesting development.
Having more electricity coming from nuclear power stations means that our coal resources can be looked at differently in the sense that many deposits may be ideal as an input for developing the synthetic fuel industry, producing diesel and gasoline. Also, LPG needs more promotion. Why export the stuff when it can be used here, and it's half the price of gasoline. More could be done with the use of natural gas as a transport fuel for city buses and short haul trucking.
In the near or distant future, when the price of petroleum stablizes above $100/barrel I predict that many countries will build large complex synthetic fuel plants using natural gas and coal as feedstock. They will produce the whole spectrum of hydrocarbon fuels (e.g, propane, butane, octane, gasoline, kerosene and diesel) which will support our land transport and aviation fuel demands. Even the USA is playing a waiting game having not built a conventional oil refinery for over 20 years. Ditto Australia.
Our existing coal/lignite fired power stations should be guarded like the CROWN JEWELS, which they are for the future prosperity of Australia by supplying the cheapest electricity. This will supply transport "fuel" for our city trains, trams and any electric cars.