Diesel trucks and the people who drive them are often described as the lifeblood of Australia — almost everything we buy in this country spends some time on the road.
Now, the transport industry is warning of a potential crisis that could see the nation’s diesel trucks grind to a halt.
There’s a looming shortage of an important chemical used to remove pollution from the exhaust of diesel trucks. Without it, the trucks can’t run.
“In most of the modern diesels, there’s a chemical added to the system called AdBlue,” Warren Clark, from the National Road Transport Association, told the ABC.
“A lot of the AdBlue, or the chemical that goes into making it, is imported from China.
“The supply of that chemical urea has dried up from China. And hence, there’s now a massive shortage of AdBlue In this country.”
Why the shortage?
AdBlue’s key ingredient, urea, is also used to make fertiliser for agriculture.
Mr Clark said there were a few reasons why the supply from China had been switched off.
“We’ve heard things like the cost of fertiliser in China has internally gone up dramatically, and a large portion of that is urea,” he said.
“So what they’ve said is that they do not want to export any urea to try and keep the price of local fertiliser down.
“It may be that there’s some sort of trade issue that they’ve got with other countries around the world.
“It’s not just Australia that’s being impacted by this, you know, the whole world is going to be impacted by the lack of this AdBlue chemical.”
He warned if Australia did not come up with a new supply of urea, and therefore AdBlue, a crisis loomed.
“This could be a very, very big issue for the whole country. Not every modern diesel, but a large portion of the modern diesels rely on AdBlue to actually operate,” Mr Clark said.
“So we’re talking about trucks, we’re talking about tractors, harvesters, agriculture, we’re talking about power generation in South Australia, we’re talking about the whole country is going to be impacted if we don’t solve this lack of supply.”
How soon could this become a problem?
Mr Clark said people would have different views about how soon the shortage would be felt.
“I had a member call the other day. They’ve got 250 prime movers. So they’re a big organisation, a lot of their fuel they buy in bulk — they are basically out of AdBlue next week,” he said.
“We believe that there’s enough supply of it ’til about February next year.
“If this is not solved by then, then we have a major problem.”
Mr Clark said if that occurs, trucks would stop running.
“So you’re not got anything getting delivered to supermarkets, you’ve got power not being generated,” he said.
“In South Australia, you’ve got tractors that can’t harvest, you’ve got hospitals that don’t have back-up generators, all this sort of thing.
“So it’s a major problem, if it doesn’t get solved.”
Calling on the government to act
Mr Clark said he was discussing the issue with the office of Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce.
He said the government had to act fast.
“This is a national supply chain issue and what needs to happen here is bigger than industry, this is a government issue,” he said.
“And we need to work with the government to try and find additional supplies of the chemical or different countries that we can import it from or get it from, or we need to increase the manufacture of AdBlue in this country.”
David Smith runs a family trucking business in South Australia. He’s also the chair of the Australian Trucking Association.
“I’m very worried… there’s no doubt there is a chronic shortage of urea in this country,” he told the ABC.
“AdBlue is used in not all trucks — in older trucks it’s not used — but anything from [the emissions standard] Euro 4 on, and it’s injected into the exhaust to eliminate your nitrous oxide, [which is the ] harmful products out of the exhaust from burning diesel.”
Mr Smith said his business was “already starting to be affected”.
“Some suppliers are actually running very low at the moment and approaching other suppliers — that hasn’t had a direct link to trucks just yet,” he said.
“But the shortage is here and it is only a matter of time. Unless we can source some extra urea to make the product, it is going to have a direct impact.
“So I’m very worried at the moment. Firstly, we can’t operate trucks without the AdBlue. Secondly, the price is going through the roof.
“Last week, it went up five cents a litre. This week, it’s gone up 10 cents a litre. So that reflects the shortage straightaway.”
A spokesman for Mr Joyce said the government was aware of the concerns and was monitoring the situation.