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Metal Casting Technologies : March 2006
same lifestyle as we do, we'd need six more planet Earths to support us. The Australian government published a report in August 2005 under the title "Is the World Running out of Oil?" A chart used in the report shows new oil discoveries over five year periods, illustrating that the volume of oil discovered every five years has been decreasing since the mid 1960s. The same report illustrates a prediction that the world peak in oil production could happen soon, creating a seller's market of unheard-of proportions. So, the question, "Is the world running out of oil?" can only be answered: "We aren't sure". We can't say that it not the case and this is probably more to the point. Predictions that higher prices would bring on new oil production have yet to prove true. In Australia we know we are vulnerable, but less vulnerable than many other countries. We produce most (78%) of our oil today, but that figure will gradually reduce because there doesn't seem to be any new reserves becoming available. We have big reserves of natural gas. We also have more available land for crops than most other countries compared with our population, so that may be an opportunity to produce fuel from biomass and there's even a chance that growing bushes for biofuel could help reduce salinity in some parts of Australia. Our scientists predict that Australia will be vulnerable to significant climate change, resulting in a drier, hotter continent with more droughts and fires and decreased river flow and quality. Transport is not the biggest cause of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Australia. Electricity generation causes almost half of Australia's GHG emissions, but transport is the fastest- growing sector around the world. In Australia the proportion is about 16% of total GHG emissions, but in the US, transport causes 27% and in California the figure is 58% The need to reduce vehicle emissions has been with us for some time, both because of the health damage caused by transport emissions, but also increasingly in recognition of the relationship between emissions and climate change. Without doubt, cars produced today are 'cleaner' in terms of emissions than they were in the past. Typically the improvement is of the order of 20% over the past 20 years. The trouble is that our average car's fuel consumption is no less than 20 years ago. The reason of course is that we've been buying more big vehicles. Four-wheel-drive vehicles are now very common on our roads and many people resent their aggressive presence, but ther is no disincentive to discourage people from buying them. Japan has set the highest standard for fuel consumption for 2010 at 4.9 L/100km. The European Union target is 5.3 L/100km for 2008. Australia has a voluntary target agreed with the automotive industry of 6.8 L/100km. China stated its intention of reaching 6.8 L/100km by 2005. Not surprisingly, the US targets are much less aggressive than other countries at 9.4 L/100km, largely brought about by the high proportion of 'sports utilities'. Even California's targets are only marginally better at 9.08 L/100km. In May 2005 the International Energy Agency issued a report showing the potential 'well-to-wheels' carbon dioxide emission reductions for alternative fuels. The report is useful in predicting the type of changes that can be expected and is relevant to the fuels issue because reducing fuel use is the quickest way to reduce emissions. Liquefied petroleum gas, natural gas and dimethyl ether produced from natural gas are recognised as less polluting fuels but the potential to reduce CO2 emissions is less than 10 percent. Ethanol produced from starchy crops, using current technologies for harvesting and processing, offer savings in CO2 emissions of the order of 10 percent or more. Advanced biofuels -- ethanol, biodiesel and dimethyl ether produced from ligno-cellulosic biomass and advanced technology in processing could offer 50% reduction in CO2 emissions. Hydrogen produced from fossil energy or natural gas offers only small reduction in CO2 emissions and the report shows that the only means of achieving a near-100% target is by using renewable electricity either as the means of powering vehicles or using the electricity to make hydrogen. For the short term IEA recommends improved rated fuel economy, reducing vehicle 'in-use' fuel consumption, reducing vehicle travel, increased use of alternative fuels and Improved freight transport efficiency. These recommendations would require big changes in behaviour that some would find unacceptable and there isn't yet a sufficient sense of urgency to accept dramatic changes. The values that have up until this year influenced people buying new vehicles were dominated by 'image' factors -- style and performance. Convenience, safety and operating cost have been somewhat important, but fuel efficiency was low on the ranking. Very few buyers gave any consideration to the environmental impact of the vehicle they were about to buy. Recent increases in fuel prices have had a surprisingly large and sudden effect on the size of vehicles being sold, to the extent that it is having severe impact on some of the companies making the larger vehicles. Whether this effect will be sustained is yet to be seen. In any event, it is astonishing that some carmakers did so little to plan for the possibility of rising fuel prices. It seems to prove that, as a world community, we have failed to recognise the risks of our dependency on cheap oil. TECHNICAL FEATURE 24 www.metals.rala.com.au