Mr HUNTER: My question is directed to the Minister for Agriculture. What is the latest information on cutting-edge research into the use of vegetable oils as alternative fuels and related matters?
Mr AMERY: I thank the honourable member for his question and for his interest in environmental matters, including alternative fuel sources. Pollution from motor vehicles and the cost of fuel are driving people to think about alternative fuel sources, particularly non-petrol and non-fossil fuel alternatives. Wind power, solar energy, ethanol and compressed natural gas have all been studied as a fuel source. I am pleased to advise the honourable member for Lake Macquarie that we can say now with some degree of confidence that vegetable oils can also be used quite effectively as a non-petrol fuel source for motor vehicles. New South Wales Agriculture invested extensive research into biodiesel in the mid-1980s. I acknowledge the work of the former Minister for Agriculture. He sponsored a Mitsubishi Triton utility that drove between Sydney and Orange in 1993. It was powered solely by canola oil. It ran very well and won its class in the Energy Challenge event.
Now New South Wales Agriculture has agreed to help the Biodiesel Association of Australia to progress the development of biodiesel or non-petrol fuel based on natural plant oils. It can also be produced from waste oil and grease. The Biodiesel Association of Australia is a growing organisation based in southern Sydney that aims to promote alternative reliable energy sources. Biodiesel is specifically focused on using vegetable oil and animal fats by a process called esterification. This removes the glycerol from the fatty acid and results in a product similar to petrol but without all the byproducts. Exhaust fumes from biodiesel fuel contain up to 80 per cent less greenhouse gas emissions than diesel fuel exhausts. Biodiesel fuels also contain no sulphur and have low toxicity. They also have the potential to be produced locally at reasonable rates.
Though it is early days, we should be encouraged by the research and the co-operation with the Biodiesel Association of Australia. New South Wales Agriculture, with its heavy involvement in vegetable production, has agreed to help the Biodiesel Association of Australia expand its information network. It will link the organisation with industry groups and other valuable networks. It will provide industry and production information wherever possible. It will also involve the organisation in seminars, conferences and workshops relating to the oilseed industry.
I understand that the Biodiesel Association of Australia also has its own plans to establish a crushing and production facility in New South Wales. Current diesel consumption in Australia is about 11.56 billion litres a year. The Biodiesel Association of Australia has an ambitious plan to corner 10 per cent of that Australian diesel market by 2011. This will need the production of one million tonnes of vegetable oil each year by our farmers. Annual Australian production of canola alone reached 860,000 tonnes in 1997. Almost half of that, 310,000 tonnes, came from New South Wales. This was worth about $280 million to our State's farmers at the farm gate. By 2005 New South Wales production is predicted to be more than double that—about 750,000 tonnes a year. Most of this will be produced along the central, southern and northern slopes of New South Wales.
Mr Hartcher: Time.
Mr AMERY: It is time. I was told two weeks ago that you would be the Leader of the Opposition by now. Two weeks later you are four weeks away from being leader. There is an ever-increasing potential with the emergence of a viable and sustainable biodiesel market. There are also opportunities for waste products to be used to make this fuel. For example, McDonald's, with its 135 restaurants across Australia, produces 1,100 tonnes of recycled frying oil each year. That is just one food chain, and there are many other food chains and individual businesses. We can see the potential for the industry to use what is otherwise a waste product. We should all be open to the potential for alternative fuel sources in this country. If those alternative fuels can involve a significant benefit to our farmers, I welcome further examination of this potential new market. I am sure that the Minister for the Environment is also keen to explore another alternative use for one of the waste products from our food industry. I thank the honourable member for Lake Macquarie for his question and I will keep him and the House advised of the progress of this exciting project.