COVID has delivered some heavy blows to many businesses with customers drying up and massive supply chain disruptions.
Now, if that’s not enough, there’s another punch coming to those supply chains in the form of one very vital liquid – AdBlue – or Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF).
Now you could be excused if you’ve never heard of AdBlue before, but it’s a fair bet you’ll be hearing quite a bit of it in the news in the coming weeks.
So, what is it exactly?
AdBlue is a mixture of 32.5% urea and 67.5% de-ionised water, and it plays a vital role in reducing nitrogen oxide emissions from the exhaust of modern diesel vehicles so we can all breathe cleaner air.
Diesel engines used to be really filthy things that belched out clouds of harmful black smoke. That’s now largely a thing of the past thanks to AdBlue and other emissions reduction technology like particulate filters and Exhaust Gas Recirculation.
Tiny amounts of AdBlue are injected into the exhaust gases to break down those nitrogen oxides into nitrogen and water, helping vehicles comply with Euro 6 emission standards. Modern trucks can’t run without it.
The active ingredient in AdBlue is urea, and that’s where the problem starts. A lot of the world’s urea is sourced from China, who have banned export of the product. Urea is a large component in ferisiliser, and because the cost of fertiliser has skyrocketed, China wants to slow that price growth.
Russia has also reduced fertiliser exports.
That’s causing a worldwide shortage of AdBlue that has governments and industry worried.
The Australian Government needs to act fast. While the trucking industry will be the first to suffer, the impact will soon be felt throughout the entire economy at a time when it’s still trying to recover from COVID.
There are no easy solutions at the moment because Australia has limited capacity to produce urea. Our largest producer, Incitec Pivot, produces about 290,000 tonnes a year, which is just 1/800th of global production.
The main feedstock for liquid urea is gas which is turned into ammonia using high pressures and temperatures.
One thing that probably won’t help in a world of uncertain supply is a repeat of the sort of mad panic buying of AdBlue reminiscent of the great toilet paper spree at the start of the pandemic.
That’s likely to make a difficult situation a good deal worse and come back to bite those who hoard the stuff because AdBlue has a shelf life.
In the long-term hydrogen could provide an alternative to gas as a feedstock, but that could take anything up to six or seven years and cost billions of dollars to build. Hardly a quick solution.
Fleetcare customers can be assured that we’re monitoring the situation closely from day-to-day and working hard with our suppliers to get the AdBlue they need to keep their vehicles on the road.
But we ask for your patience should things get tough with AdBlue supply as we work through this difficult supply problem. We’ll do our best to keep you informed as the situation changes.