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Publisher's Letter

Australia's energy policies should rely heavily on natural gas

The recent rise in the cost of petrol and diesel shows just how exposed Australia is to the world price for oil. Oil and petrol imports are surging as Australia’s local oil fields dry up. The latest figures indicate that the nation’s crude oil production has dropped by 44%, to the point where we are now producing 60-65% of what we consume. Predictably, there are screams from all affected users, asking for the excise to be reduced, for subsidies to promote the use of ethanol or LPG and so on. All of which ignores the fact that Australian petrol is about the fourth cheapest among developed nations.

In truth, this problem has been coming for a long time and will only continue to get much worse as nations like China and India ramp up their economic development and their consumption of energy. So what should we do to cope with the rising cost of petrol? Most people are already doing it – using their cars less or buying smaller, more fuel-efficient cars. This is the market economy in action! Hybrid (petrol or diesel + electric) vehicles don’t really come into the picture for most people because they are simply too expensive compared to their petrol-driven equivalents.

Clearly, the Federal government’s plan to subsidise the cost of LPG conversions for cars will do very little. Even if 50,000 drivers a year were able to convert to LPG, it would still only benefit a minority of motorists. LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) is also a limited resource, as it is a byproduct of oil refining. In the short term, most drivers are going to have to bear the pain of paying more.

In the long term, the solution to Australia’s road transport fuel costs is the same as for our electricity generation – a move to natural gas. We have enormous reserves of natural gas and rather than selling it all to China, Japan, etc, we should be using more of it at home. Apart from its greatly reduced cost, natural gas-powered vehicles have almost the same fuel efficiency as for petrol and diesel. Nor is the conversion to CNG (compressed natural gas) much different to that for LPG. In fact CNG-powered vehicles are already available in the USA. If the USA can do it, why can’t we? In fact, some CNG-powered buses have been used in Australia since 1994.

Another advantage for CNG is that it can be easily made available throughout the major cities of Australia – the pipelines are already in place. All the government has to do is to mandate that all vehicles sold in the future must have the option of being powered by CNG.

Clearly, while most people want to escape the prospect of higher petrol prices, there is no ready and cheap alternative, whether it is electric, hybrid, more public transport or whatever. In the long run, there is a fair chance that your future vehicle will be CNG-powered.

Entries for Technology Awards closing soon

Entries for the above awards (see page 89) will close very soon, so if you or your school or university are thinking of entering, time is running out. In fact we are extending the deadline by two weeks to October 16th. The winners will be announced in the December 2006 issue. Entry requirements are as follows:

(1)A description of the project in no more than 1000 words.

(2)Full circuit and wiring diagrams, performance plots, etc.

(3)Good quality photographs to show all visual aspects of the project.

(4)Details of software.

Get your entries in now! You or your school could be the winners!

Leo Simpson

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