Profile: Peter Beattie

Profile: Peter Beattie

Better known for his big air travel “footprint” and his regular media appearances, former Queensland Premier Peter Beattie is now highlighting the value of biofuels for the aviation sector and the opportunities this presents for Australia in research and development. He now has a regular column in The Australian which helps him spell out his role as Queensland’s promoter of trade and as Commissioner for The Americas.  

Peter Beattie in The Australian (19 April 2010):

AUSTRALIA needs to become increasingly creative, thinking outside the square and ticking new trade and research boxes if we are going to maintain our competitive advantage and standard of living by 2050.

This means being a world leader in research and, importantly, the commercialisation of research, as well as being aggressive in new markets like Latin America. We cannot just put all our eggs in the one basket of resource exports without a long-term strategy of value-adding. That’s why this week there were two good signs for Australia’s long-term future.

Firstly, Boeing hosted the second Aero Environment Summit in Sydney on Wednesday. The summit brought together airlines, engine manufacturers, academics and regulatory bodies to consider the next steps in the development and rollout of sustainable aviation biofuels.

On the face of it, this is not particularly compelling, but the facts tell a different story.

Boeing now believes that viable and environmentally sustainable biofuels can be a reality by 2015. Airbus is just as optimistic.

A number of test flights have shown that jet fuel derived from algae can be burned safely, reliably and efficiently and can even be done without having to make modifications to existing jet engines.

By all indications, the major aviation authorities are set to start certifying biofuels for jets this year.

Queensland is leading the way on this, through the creation of an aviation biofuels consortium out of the University of Queensland. The consortium includes Boeing, Mackay Sugar and IOR Energy and is working with a who’s who of the global aviation and energy industries: the likes of Airbus, Virgin Blue, Qantas, Air New Zealand, Honeywell, GE Engines, Pratt & Whitney, CFM, BP and Caltex, legendary US research institutions like Clemson University, Savannah River National Laboratory and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory working alongside the James Cook University at Townsville — they are all involved in one way or another. The Queensland government is directly funding researchers to work on it, and US companies like Amyris and Boeing are pumping big dollars into it.

This technology is well advanced. It is happening and Australia is well positioned to be a key player in an entirely new industry. It will be an industry underpinned by great research and innovation with enormous potential to commercialise the intellectual property and create new jobs.

This is exactly what I mean by thinking outside the square — it will be through these types of initiatives that Australia will be able to value-add to its traditional industries and ensure our long-term growth, as energy sources change and technology advances at an ever increasing rate.

Which brings me to the second good sign — a large number of Australian companies are here in Santiago, Chile, at one of the largest mining shows in the world, Expomin.

Neither Chile nor these companies have been deterred by the recent terrible earthquake, both adopting the view that “trade, not aid” is the way forward.

The companies don’t just turn up for the expo. It’s just a stepping stone to access one of the fastest-growing markets in the world, Latin America.

The importance of Australia’s presence in the region was emphasised by Trade Minister Simon Crean’s address to a packed business gathering at the ambassador’s residence this week. Queensland, Victoria, NSW and South Australia all had representatives here, and there is universal agreement that Latin America is a strategic market to be investing in — particularly the countries of Chile, Colombia, Brazil, Peru and Mexico. China is playing an investment role here as it seeks to diversify its markets.

Thankfully, Australia is doing the same.

Next week, Queensland Premier Anna Bligh will lead a trade delegation of Queensland companies to Chile, Peru, Colombia and Brazil to further open up this market for our companies.

A lot of work still needs to be done, but the long-term signs for Australia are getting better in terms of diversifying our access to new markets and energy research capacity.

Peter Beattie, the former Queensland premier, is Queensland commissioner for the Americas, based in Los Angeles.


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