13 January 2022

Struggle to find AdBlue diesel additive continues with no end in sight

| James Coleman
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Diesel and AdBlue tank caps on car

The two separate filler caps for diesel and AdBlue on a passenger car. Photo: File.

Shoppers might be contending with increasingly bare shelves as increasing numbers of workers find themselves in isolation due to COVID-19, but another major shortage has been unfolding since late 2021, with the potential for similar consequences.

Motorists and truckers across Australia, including the ACT, are still finding it hard to locate a crucial additive for their diesel engines. When they do find it, the prices are astronomical.

The bad news is those on the ground say there isn’t really an end in sight.

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AdBlue is made from a very precise mixture of 32 per cent urea and 68 per cent demineralised water, and it is used in modern cars, trucks, farm equipment and construction machinery.

The product sits in a vehicle’s separate tank to the diesel tank and is automatically injected into the exhaust system, preventing the major smog pollutant nitric oxide from making it into the atmosphere.

The technology has only been fitted to diesel engines since 2010 so older models can happily run without it. Anything else will grind to a halt.

Modifying the engines as a workaround is possible, but also potentially dangerous and illegal.

Woolworths trucks

Many modern trucks rely on AdBlue additive. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Up to 80 per cent of Australia’s supply of urea comes from China. The trouble began in 2021 when China announced it would no longer be exporting the substance, ostensibly to ensure their local farmers had an adequate supply.

This caught Australia off-guard, with fears the nation’s freight lines would collapse.

Australia isn’t alone, either, with AdBlue hard to come by around the world, especially in Europe where diesel accounts for a high proportion of private cars.

Local Canberra transport companies MB Logistics and Canberra Mainfreight Transport say they have remained largely unaffected by the shortage due to prior agreements with AdBlue suppliers and their relatively small fleets. But the same can’t be said for many others.

Abletts Transport is a family-run trucking company with offices in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra, and a mixed fleet of older and newer vehicles. Spokesperson Lee Abletts described the situation before Christmas last year as “scary”.

“We were looking at no alternative except pulling the truck up,” he said.

“We were lucky we had a good supplier so we didn’t have to pay the obscene prices that AdBlue was going for elsewhere.”

Abletts Transport truck driving on Anzac Parade

Canberra trucking companies haven’t been exempt from AdBlue shortages. Photo: Abletts Transport.

Abletts Transport kept a bulk supply in their yard, but even this dried up in the lead up to Christmas.

Certain vehicles can go for as long as week without AdBlue due to the size of the tank, but others require a top-up nearly every trip.

“Some of the bigger trucks require 200 litres of the stuff,” said Mr Abletts.

Prior to the shortage, he said the company was paying 39 cents a litre for their bulk supply from Sydney. It’s now $1.89 a litre, with prices elsewhere as high as between $5 and $10 a litre.

The average Canberra punter, with no access to bulk suppliers, is bearing the brunt of this. Many people are taking to local Facebook groups to ask about where others have found the elusive additive, as hit-but-largely-miss supplies continue to plague service stations and automotive stores.

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Mr Abletts said says the issue has improved, but is far from resolved, and he expects it to continue causing headaches during the course of 2022.

AUSBlue, Australia’s largest mixer of AdBlue, denies accusations that price gouging is occurring, instead saying the massive increase in cost is attributable to the natural actions of the supply and demand seesaw.

Queensland-based company Incitec Pivot is the largest producer of urea in Australia, supplying around 10 per cent of the national market. They are currently overhauling their equipment in Brisbane so they can make more of the higher-grade solution used in diesel engines.

However, their plant is scheduled to close in December 2022 due to a gas supply dispute, begging questions as to who will pick up the slack come 2023.

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Capital Retro7:52 pm 16 Jan 22

Scott Abela, “clean Cheap Aussie made LPG” is no longer cheap and it is hard to find outside the big cities and regional centres. Additionally, the qualified technicians required for the 3 yearly inspections are now very thin on the ground.

HiddenDragon7:08 pm 16 Jan 22

The AdBlue mess is another sign that nothing much, if anything, of practical value resulted from this wake up call from April 2020 –

https://www.abc.net.au/7.30/confidential-report-predicted-how-long-it-would/12195072

I bought a 2021 Ranger Wildtrak. No AdBlue tank. Good times

Capital Retro8:37 am 16 Jan 22

Makes one wonder why the government didn’t intervene to stop a South Korean air force military tanker coming here a couple of months ago to get millions of litres of the stuff to save the South Korean diesel delivery truck network.

We can thank the progressive EU environmental zealots for introducing this additive which follows the diesel engine destroying diesel particulate filter regulations.

Australia is not part of the EU. Our governments are responsible for their own regulation.

The additive is about air quality in cities. It’s probably unnecessary in Australia’s spread out cities.

Capital Retro,
You’re only out by a few orders of magnitude with your claims around the South Korean military tanker.

Although I’d truly love to see the size of this aircraft that could lift millions of kilos of liquid cargo.

For reference, Australia uses around 3 million litres of AdBlue a week. I don’t think the 27000L we gave to South Korea is going to hurt supply.

https://7news.com.au/business/energy/south-korea-has-urea-shortage-c-4495853

Capital Retro2:10 pm 16 Jan 22

Before you bag me next time, read the article.

The author said “Motorists and truckers across Australia, including the ACT, are still finding it hard to locate a crucial additive for their diesel engines. When they do find it, the prices are astronomical.”

The EU demanded the standard and the engine manufacturers have to comply otherwise they can’t sell in the EU which is a huge market. They are not going to make a special model for Australia.

A few manufacturers have dropped global production of models they used to sell in the EU because of the continually changing emission standards there. The Mitsubishi Pajero is one such vehicle.

IrishPete whilst we are not part of the EU, lots of our heavy vehicles are imported from Europe so comply with their emissions standards.

Likewise even trucks imported from the USA meet the European standards as well. Which is just as well.

And capital retro surprised you are not complaining about virtue signalling. I’ve actually never quite worked out what that means. And I really don’t understand what your issue is with anything environmental. When it comes to diesel in heavy vehicles the stuff is filthy and is highly polluting which is why emissions standards have been introduced to minimise the impact. I would imagine you would hate living in London where high emission vehicles get taxed by being inside the low emissions zone which now takes in most of greater London.

The lung destroying diesel particulates you mean?

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