‘Running out of fuel or food isn’t an option’: Operators react to AdBlue crisis


Lyndon Watson, CEO of Don Watson Transport, says there are two choices around the fast-looming AdBlue shortage in Australia.

With China stopping all exports of urea to stabilise its own market, either the government will have to “magic-up” some AdBlue from somewhere in the next couple of months, or trucks will have to be allowed to run without it.

“Running out of fuel or running out of food is not going to be an option,” said Watson.

Watson’s comment refers to the fact that most supermarket and fuel giants contract operators to use Euro5 or newer trucks, which require the Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF), more commonly known as its trade name here, AdBlue.

“We might get the stuff to the DC, but the DC can’t deliver it to the supermarkets.

“What are they doing to do, bring out all those old trucks from mothballs?”

Watson said you only have to look at what happened in the UK when petrol supply issues caused panic-buying at the pumps to see what could be on the horizon for Australia if the DEF shortage isn’t resolved.

“As soon as it gets out there that the AdBlue [shortage] isn’t just going to stop all the trucks, it’s also going to stop all the shelves being restocked, their servos being restocked, everyone’s going to go, ‘I really should fill up my tank and fill up my toilet paper. And everything is going to go in a day.

“It’s not going to deplete over the course of a couple of weeks, or months. The population will skin it dry in a day.”

Dean Smith, director at Winston Express Haulage in Sydney, said the situation is already “pretty serious”.

He said he has enough AdBlue supplies to keep his 55-truck fleet running through the busy Christmas period and to the end of January.

But he’s already had to switch suppliers to stay on the road and has seen the DEF prices at servos jump by as much as 10 per cent in record time.

“If we run out of AdBlue, we can’t run the trucks, that’s it,” he said.

“What do you do? Take them back to the manufacturers and get a special dispensation to turn the AdBlue off for a month? I don’t know.”

Key industry players met with the Deputy PM and Transport Minster Barnaby Joyce on Friday to discuss the issue, and have been called back for a “strategic roundtable” on Wednesday, December 8, the Australian Trucking Association told Big Rigs today.

In a media release today, the National Road Transport Assocation (NatRoad) also called for the formation of a cross-sector task force to manage the shortage.

NatRoad CEO Warren Clark said although road transport would be hit first and hardest when supplies of DEF dry up, the problem was bigger than any one sector.

“NatRoad was pleased with Friday’s meeting with the office of Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, and the government does understand the potential for the shortage to bring road freight to a halt,” Clark said.

“But this is first and foremost an issue of supply.

“Australia is a big importer of DEF, with 80 percent of the Asia-Pacific needs coming from China which has stopped all exports to stabilise its local market.

“Our Trade Minister Dan Tehan needs to find an alternative source.

“The Government needs to establish a task force of industry, with officials from relevant departments, so that we can all manage the shortage in the immediate term.”

ATA chief of staff Bill McKinley argued at Friday’s meeting in Canberra that the following approaches need to be adopted:

  1. Australia should ban urea exports,except on a government-to-government basis. We don’t let our friends and allies down when they need emergency help
  2. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) should provide support to Australian DEF suppliers in their efforts to source urea, including from China. One argument I have heard from within government is that DFAT’s job is to promote exports, not imports. In response, we should point out that many Australian exports involve truck movements and that a substantial proportion of those trucks require DEF to operate
  3. Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications (DITRDC), NHVR and Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (DAWE) should work with OEMs to determine if it is technically possible to remap truck engines to reduce their DEF consumption or, alternatively, to see if it is possible to vary the DEF standard to allow for a modest proportion of fertiliser grade urea to be used in its production. It should be emphasised that neither of these technical solutions looks prospective
  4. DITRDC and DISER should consider what a DEF rationing plan for Australia might need to look like – on the basis that it is better to have a plan that it is not required than to have to put one together overnight
  5. DITRDC, the NHVR and state road agencies should consider what emergency permits could be issued to allow for the increased use of high productivity vehicles if there is a critical DEF shortage.

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