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Monday, 14 August 2000
Page: 18877

Mr BILLSON (5:19 PM) —I rise tonight to call on the government and those with an interest in supporting the take-up of LPG technology in our vehicle sector to embrace some decisive action that will remove some of the barriers to LPG fulfilling its potential as an alternative fuel. We know when we look at LPG and compare it with unleaded petrol that there are a number of very positive environmental benefits—15 per cent lower carbon dioxide emissions, 20 per cent lower ozone forming potential, 80 per cent less harmful air toxins in the emissions and a number of other areas in terms of reduced nitrous dioxide emissions and the like.

One of the things though that is standing in the way of us gaining those benefits is the fuel itself—and I will talk about that briefly in a moment. The cost of LPG is currently about half of what it is for unleaded petrol. Taking into account the differing energy content of petrol and LPG, which is about a 20 to 25 per cent difference, there is still a savings of around 30 to 40 per cent in using LPG over a similar distance. So there are some savings there for motorists as well as benefits for the environment. About five per cent of vehicles in Australia are currently run on LPG. That is almost half a million vehicles. Automotive use of LPG is growing at a rate of about 10 per cent a year and has been since 1983, and Victoria leads the way with about 40 per cent of the vehicles in that state using LPG. There are about 3,300 LPG outlets around Australia, so the infrastructure is expanding.

But there are some barriers to the take-up of LPG, and they are what I would like to talk about tonight. I often call the brew that is LPG a cocktail because it comes with a great degree of variety and variation, making it difficult for those who design and engineer the technology to get that perfectly right so that the motorist gets the full benefit of the conversion to LPG and the environment gets those benefits I mentioned earlier. The volumes of the two principal gases, propane and butane, do vary in terms of LPG made available for the transport industry, depending on what is available at the time, the production process and the demand. It is helpful to recognise that propane is in particularly high demand for heating and other household uses. That at times means its proportion of LPG fuel reduces.

On top of that though, there is evidence that other contaminants find their way into the mix that cause problems with vehicle efficiency, idling, maintenance, difficulty starting in the morning and poor fuel economy. I have brought with me an example. This is a converter which takes the LPG and converts it into a vapour before it is combusted. You can see that it is almost like it is covered in vegemite. The residues that are in this part of the vehicle are clear to see. It is not difficult to understand why this piece of technology is not optimising its own performance when it looks more like a bit of vegemite toast in the morning. That is an example of what happens with this technology.

The minister at the table, Bruce Scott, is probably aware of some of the difficulties with valves and seats. These are some of those examples. It is probably difficult for those listening to grasp, but members will see that there are residues caked on that obviously affect equipment performance. Some of the rubber parts and components that are a part of this technology corrode and deteriorate at differing rates depending on what is in the mix. The difficulty the industry faces is that, as the mix of the gas changes, the choice about the technology that is used in the conversion equipment and what parts should be made out of what types of rubber varies as well. So it is difficult for the industry to devise and provide the optimum technology to make use of the LPG because the gas itself is a bit of a movable feast, and that is something I would like to talk about tonight.

We have seen some very encouraging developments in the take-up of LPG technology. My congratulations go to Ford Australia, which recently, with some fanfare, announced their single-cell Falcon range which they believe will generate some savings for the people who purchase them, as well as making a constructive contribution to our environmental conditions. I congratulate them for that.

One issue that Ford have identified is this variation in the fuel type. How do engineers design their engines and the supporting components to work at their best when they are working with a movable feast on the fuel? This is an area that we as a country need to face up to if we are to support the take-up of LPG in our vehicle fleet and secure the environmental benefits that are available. From what Ford tell me, the polling is clear: there is support within the community for the use of more environmentally friendly vehicles. We should be supporting that interest in the community and facilitating the take-up of this technology by insisting that there be a mandated national standard for LPG.

Some would say that our problems relate to whether it is a butane mix or a propane mix. The interesting fact is that around the world different mixes are used in different countries, so that of itself clearly is not our problem. France, for instance, uses an LPG that is almost entirely butane, whereas the US version of LPG is almost entirely propane. The point we should take out of that is that there are benefits in both, but you cannot secure the full benefit from either until you settle on what the mix of the fuel should be. We know that the mix can vary; it does around the world. What we need to do as a country is make a mandated national standard that gives all those involved with the industry a chance to design the best technology available to support the take-up of LPG.

Another benefit, aside from the benefit to the environment, is the cost to the motorist. Having to carry out repairs on these pieces of equipment to remove the `vegemite', the oil deposits that are there, actually incurs cost. There are also costs incurred upon the industry that is involved in fitting this technology through servicing and responding to warranty claims. This difficulty with the fuel finds its way right through the system—from the people manufacturing the conversion technology, to those who are servicing and supporting it, to the motorist who gets up in the morning and finds the car does not start terribly well because there is some of this residue in their system. I know from the examples in my electorate that my attention has been drawn to that some motorists have been getting either under 300 kilometres or above 370 kilometres from the same-sized tank of fuel but a different type of fuel that is sold to the market as LPG. That highly variable composition of the LPG is causing problems right throughout the industry.

It is interesting to talk with people who have LPG conversions. They talk about getting a good brew—that is, a tank full of LPG that supports the optimum performance of their cars, improved fuel efficiency, power through the vehicle itself and the amount of fuel they consume.

What can we do about this? The government—to its credit and in support of implementing its Living Cities policy and also its Measures for a Better Environment package that have been negotiated with the Democrats—is looking at implementing mandatory national fuel standards for diesel and petrol, bringing up those Euro standards as many people would know. My view is that that is excellent work but it needs to be complemented by exactly the same thing for LPG. A number of the submissions to those national fuel standards highlighted the need for LPG standards to be part of the work. The government is considering those recommendations, and I urge Minister Hill and the government to take those suggestions, embrace them and actually insist on having LPG mandatory national standards developed as part of the work that is going on for diesel and petrol.

My sense as you look around the industry is that there will be support for the industry getting behind that initiative. I have talked with some of the players in the field that have considered investing some of their own industry funds to identify the causes of the `vegemite' effect on the components—whether it is in the fuel itself or whether it is the fact that some of the hoses used to deliver the fuel to the vehicle actually lose some of their insides and that finds its way into the fuel and the car system itself. They are prepared to invest to find the answers to those questions.

My suggestion to the government is: why not take that industry goodwill and work with it? Why not approach the car industry, the LPG fuel suppliers, the conversion and servicing industry and all of us who are interested in a better outcome for our environment and resource the rapid development of a mandatory LPG standard so that it can be implemented along with the diesel and petrol standards? There is work going on but, understandably, the government is focusing on those priorities that it committed to through the negotiations with the Democrats. My suggestion is that we should actually pick up that opportunity and include LPG in it.

I know the industry has done a lot of work in this area. We could take that work and accelerate the development of the standard so it can plug into the legislative processes that are there. Other ideas might be that we could have a `better brew' monitor where the motorist industries—the RACV and the like —could actually publish where the best mix of LPG is to get optimum vehicle performance and fuel efficiency. We need to support the research that is going on to find out what those phtalates are doing in the fuel supply system, where the contaminants and impurities are entering the system and what we can do to remove them so that the fuel quality is up to what we all expect.

The government can lead that, but the industry has got to be a part of it. I think there is a challenge before us as a country to actually support the take-up of LPG fuel. There are some constructive steps we can take to support that, and I encourage the government to do so. (Time expired)