“Be Part of Change, or Be Left Behind,” Beattie Challenges Australia on Biofuels

In Australia, former Queensland premier Peter Beattie issued a stark challenge to Australia on biofuels at the opening of the Australian Alternative Fuels Summit in Brisbane.

As President Obama has said, ‘the country that leads on clean energy, will lead the global economy in the 21st century.’ We have to be part of this change, or we will be left behind. Anyone who has a look will know that, in the future, 50 percent of all new jobs will be knowledge-based. We can’t afford to not be part of the technology development process, and give half the jobs away. If we do that, we’ll be a just a beach, though a beautiful one. R&D is our future. If you’ve got just 22 million people, which is less than some cities in China or less than Southern California, you’ve got to use your brains.

In addition to Beattie, keynoters included Sir Richard Branson, former Australian Defense Minister Robert Hill, Queensland Energy Minister Stephen Robertson and JGC chairman emeritus Yoshihiro Shigehisa. They described daunting commercial development challenges and the urgency to find the means to deploy biofuels at scale in light of increasing military, aviation and road transport demand.

Sir Richard Branson, addressing the delegates by video, said that “we are committed to taking the profits from our dirtier technologies and investing them in developing clean fuels. He hopes that Virgin can operate on isobutanol or algae-based fuels in 4-5 years time.

Speaking about the $25 million Virgin Earth Prize, awarded to a technology that successfully extracts carbon from the atmosphere, Branson said that the company has received many submissions but has not seen a winner yet.

Queensland’s Minister for Energy Stephen Robertson highlighted the government’s $7 million Ethanol Action Plan from 2005 and a similar plan initiated in 2009, and commitments towards introducing E10-oriented mandates for niche markets and general-market mandates. He said that the government intends to return to its main E5 mandate now that federal discussions over the fuel exist tax have successfully concluded. He also highlighted $10 million in support towards next-generation biofuels as well as a $2 million commitment towards the Queensland Sustainable Aviation consortium.

Robertson highlighted what he called a $1 billion contribution to the economy that is expected to come from bio-based products. He expects the byproducts to play a critical role to the aviation industry, as well.

Robertson said that a trip to Boeing in 2009 convinced him that the 22,000 jets, at “a couple of hundred” airports, represented the “closed loop, the right sort of market for a new industry.”

Former Australian Defense Minister Robert Hill called the attempt by the world’s economies to move from 2.7-25 percent by 2050 “both daunting and challenging,” especially considering the expected 50 percent growth in the global population and economic growth throughout the developing world. He described the total required investment to be in the $13 trillion range over 40 years, and said that OECD countries needed to do more to develop pathways from demonstration to deployment.

“If you believe the consequences of not responding urgently to global climate change, then the investment is not only worthwhile but important.” He said that an upcoming Australian white paper on energy was a clear opportunity to clarify strategy.

He said that, in retrospect, Kyoto may have represented the high point in a coordinated global response to climate change. Copenhagen, he said, illustrated the difficulty in establishing s global mandate, and said that the new, voluntary model received a strong setback when the US abandoned its drive to establish a carbon scheme.

“The reasons we went to Kyoto and Copenhagen are still there,” Professor Hill said, “but the global picture is not promising.”

Former Queensland premier Peter Beattie described biofuels as a driver today, and the main driver by 2030. He noted with approval a statement by President Obama that “the country that leads on clean energy will lead the global economy in the 21st century.

“Fuel security, emissions, economic development – the arguments for biofuels are true,” Beattie said. “We have moved beyond that now. The aviation industry, for example, has said that biofuels are critical to their long-term success.”

Beattie referred to the “American obsession with energy independence” and said: “The US Navy will have to find eight major suppliers around the world [for its Green Strike Force]” and we are here in a geographic sector in the South Pacific all by ourselves. We can be a major supplier to the Green Fleet, which is scheduled to be fully operational by 2016.”

Beattie pointed to significant IATA targets for aviation fuels, in the range of having 10 percent of its fuels coming from biofuels by 2017.

Looking at China and Japan, Beattie said that the major economies were not going to let the US have a monopoly on green fuels.

Speaking on aviation, Boeing research GM Bill Lyons said the crucial threshold for production was producing 600 million gallons of sustainable aviation biofuels by 2016. “If we get there, we know that we have made this commercial.” Lyons referred to IATA goals to have carbon neutrality by 2020, and said that it was impossible to hit industry goals with sustainable aviation biofuels.

“There’s nothing like kerosene, and non-conventional crude oil sources like the Canadian tar sands are not good sources for us. They just don’t make kerosene from that source as well as some other fuels. The oil companies are deeply interested in developing new technologies to make that happen, which is a niche fuel for them.”

Bill Lyons said that five years ago, the question was whether kerosene could be sustainably produced from biomass at all. Now, he said, the challenge is to move from the technical demonstrations that had taken place to commercial production. He said that nascent production facilities such as those developed by AltAir, Neste Oil and Dynamic Fuels were a start, but the industry needs to take a 40-50 year approach and engage in the broad systems engineering that looked at all aspects of feedstock, production, deployment and sustainability.

This article was originally published by Biofuels Digest and was reprinted with permission.

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