As Australia’s transport sector strives to reduce its carbon footprint, alternative fuels offer a roadmap towards net-zero.

Transport’s heavy reliance on fossil fuels has made it Australia’s third-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. Transport was responsible for 19% of Australia’s total emissions in 2020, according to the government’s Climate Change Authority, and this is predicted to rise to 25% by 2030. Light passenger and commercial vehicles made up 62% of Australia’s transport emissions in 2019, and 60% in 2022.

Efforts to decarbonise Australia’s transport sector must include breaking its dependence on fossil fuels. There are many viable alternatives, each with its benefits and challenges.

What are alternative fuels?

Alternative fuels are fuels which can be used as substitutes for fossil fuels such as petroleum, coal and gas. They include biofuels made using organic material, along with other energy sources like electricity and hydrogen.

When it comes to transport, alternative fuels can be used on their own or blended with fossil fuels. They can also be used in mixed systems which can run on a choice of fuels, such as hybrid electric vehicles.

What are the different types of alternative fuels?

Many alternative fuels are biofuels, which are derived from biomass such as plant material or animal waste. This includes alcohols like bioethanol, biomethanol, and biobutanol.

Hydrogen and electricity are also alternative transport fuels, although they can be produced using fossil fuels or alternative methods.

Natural gas and propane are fossil fuels but are sometimes counted as alternative fuels because they release less carbon than fuels like petroleum.

BITRE - Total registered vehicles Australia by fuel type - 2021 and 2022
BITRE - Total registered vehicles Australia by fuel type - 2021 and 2022


Biofuels are produced over a short period of time, using a biomass of living or recently-deceased organisms. This differs from fossil fuels, which are created over millions of years from decomposing plants and animals.

In the transport sector, biofuels are still burned in internal combustion engines. They burn cleaner than fossil fuels, releasing less carbon and other pollutants, and they can be produced more quickly from readily-available renewable sources.

What are the types of biofuels?

The two most common biofuels are bioethanol and biodiesel, which can be made from a range of plant and animal materials. While they can be used as standalone fuel sources, in the transport sector bioethanol and biodiesel are typically blended with petroleum and diesel respectively.

Biofuels can also provide substitutes for a wide range of other traditional fuels. Biogases such as biomethane are produced from the breakdown of organic matter, while bioliquids such as biobutanol can be fermented from corn feedstock.

What are the pros and cons of biofuels?


  • Currently, bioethanol and biodiesel are mostly produced using first-generation technology, relying on renewable, high-energy sources such as sugar, starch, and vegetable oil.
  • Biofuels can be produced domestically, reducing Australia’s reliance on importing fuel.
  • Biofuels, particularly ethanol, are more highly combustible than fossil fuels, resulting in a lower tailpipe carbon dioxide emissions.


  • The main drawback of first-generation biofuels is they come from potential food sources, such as corn, sugarcane, and canola. This puts further pressure on global food supplies and the availability of farming land.
  • Farming these biofuel crops can also have an environmental impact. For example, some biofuel crops have high water requirements.
  • An increase in land use for biofuel crops could see an increase in deforestation.

More information:

How are biofuels improving?

Second-generation biofuels rely on more abundant “lignocellulosic” feedstock, which comes from a much broader range of plant materials. They can also come from biomass which has already served a purpose, such as industrial waste, manure, and used cooking oil.

Second generation biofuels are on the verge of commercialisation. Emerging third-generation biofuels are produced from microorganisms such as bacteria and algae, while fourth generation biofuels focus on genetically modifying these microorganisms to lower costs and improve quality.

One downside of all biofuels is that burning them still produces pollution, including greenhouse gases, even though the amounts are considerably lower than when burning fossil fuels.

Bioenergy in Australia

According to Australia’s Bioenergy Roadmap (Nov 2021):

  • Bioenergy provides over half of Australia’s current renewable energy output. In 2019-20, bioenergy accounted for 47% of Australia’s current renewable energy production, and 3% of Australia’s total energy consumption.
  • Road transport biofuels can complement other low emissions alternatives such as hydrogen and electric vehicles, which are currently experiencing a gradual uptake. In particular, there are opportunities for biofuels to displace diesel in long-haul transport where there are limited low emissions alternatives.
  • Liquid biofuels can use existing refuelling infrastructure and conventional vehicle fleets, which is particularly beneficial for reducing emissions in road transport in the short term. Some biofuels, such as 1G bioethanol and HVO renewable diesel, are close to being cost-competitive with conventional fuels.
  • “Biofuels are likely to become significant contributors in the heavy freight, shipping and aviation sectors.” (Source: Biofuels and Transport: An Australian opportunity A special report from the CEFC and ARENA).

Biofuel and aviation

Dr Emma Whittlesea portrait and 'green' plane

Emma Whittlesea

There are increasing plans and targets emerging from industry, including airports, aircraft manufacturers and airlines, and increasing work and alliances around Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF), which will need to be developed and targeted for use in long haul flights where decarbonisation options are limited.

Emma Whittlesea – Acting Executive Director for the Climate Ready Initiative, Griffith University


Rather than relying on an internal combustion engine, electric vehicles (EVs) rely on a battery to power an electric motor which produces zero emissions.

What are the pros and cons of electricity?


  • “On average, a petrol car consumes around 10 litres per 100 km and costs around $2,400 to fuel each year. The average EV consumes around $400 worth of electricity per year.” Source: National Electric Vehicle Strategy (downloadable further down this page)
  • Australia has a high level of solar coverage, so just as in the case of biofuel development of Australia’s solar energy collection and storage reduces our need to import fuel.
  • Raw materials needed to make EV batteries – lithium, cobalt, and nickel – are expected to drop by 50% in the decade 2020 —2030.
  • The average driving range capability of EVs has increased from 139 kilometres in 2011 to 349 (and up to 550) kilometres in 2021. Since 2016 it has increased by 50%.
  • Australia has put together a National Battery Strategy to support the development of a domestic battery manufacturing ecosystem – download the Strategy’s Issues Paper.

More information:


  • The price of EVs is still high in comparison to petrol vehicles. Though to be fair, as the market shifts this will improve, as will measures taken as a result of Australia’s National Electric Vehicle Strategy (2023). See also Australian buyers charged a premium for electric cars.
  • Just as the EV vehicle market is nascent, so too is Australia’s EV charging infrastructure. States have prioritised building more charging stations, and ‘electric superhighways’, and additionally new laws are being put in place to have charging infrastructure installed in new apartment builds.
  • Although mining EV battery materials such as lithium and cobalt is far cleaner than fossil fuel production, the environmental cost at mining sites is high – air and water pollution, land degradation, groundwater contamination. Mining technology development will mitigate some of these dangers, as will improved waste management and recycling practice, and a shift from the likes of lithium and cobalt to elements such as iron and silicon. See The Environmental Impacts of Lithium and Cobalt Mining

More information:

EV take-up: Australia versus the world

According to the National Electric Vehicle Strategy (April 2023):

  • In 2012, 120,000 electric cars were sold worldwide annually; in 2021, more than 120,000 were sold each week
  • Electric vehicle sales account for around 9% of the global car market in 2021; 15% in the UK, 17% in the EU and 4.5% in the US. Australia currently lags behind – EV sales accounted for 3.8% of our national car market in 2022.

Other EV facts and figures

    • On average, a petrol car consumes around 10 litres per 100 km and costs around $2,400 to fuel each year. The average EV consumes around $400 worth of electricity per year.
    • Australia is the world’s largest producer of lithium, contributing over half of global mined production in 2021. Lithium is a critical mineral in the production of EV batteries.
    • The average battery electric vehicle driving range has increased around 50% since 2016.


While electric vehicles rely on batteries to store power, hydrogen vehicles use fuel cells to generate electricity on the move. The only emissions when converting hydrogen into electricity are water vapour and warm air.

What are the pros and cons of hydrogen?


  • The materials for making fuel cells are less scarce than those required for batteries, plus fuel cells have a much longer lifespan. They also offer greater energy storage density than batteries, making them smaller and lighter to help increase range. These factors mean hydrogen has the potential to carry the load when it comes to decarbonising heavy-duty transport fleets
  • Again, Australia is well-placed with resources and locations for hydrogen production, again strengthening Australia’s energy security. Additionally, it could be a valuable export product for the nation.

More information:


Hydrogen and Australia

  • According to Australia’s National Hydrogen Strategy (2019), an Australian hydrogen industry could generate about 7,600 jobs and add about $11 billion a year in additional GDP by 2050. If global markets develop faster, it could mean another 10,000 jobs and at least $26 billion a year in GDP.
  • Governments in Victoria, NSW and Queensland Governments are collaborating on a renewable hydrogen highway, developed by 2026, and focusing on the Hume, Pacific, and Newell highways.
    • The National Hydrogen Strategy identifies several early opportunities for hydrogen vehicles:
    • ‘back to base’ transport applications such as fleet vehicles and metropolitan public transport
    • freight transport
    • industrial users such as ports or remote industrial sites
  • The NSW Government has set a stretch goal of getting 10,000 hydrogen fuel cell vehicles on NSW roads and 100 refuelling stations by 2030.

What is green hydrogen?


While we have observed increased uptake of electric vehicles in the passenger and light vehicle markets, their adoption for freight has remained minimal. Freight is a significant contributor to the transport sector’s emissions and is expected to grow as a proportion of total emissions.

Currently, zero emission heavy vehicles account for just 0.1 percent of total new truck sales, with all the sales related to light duty vehicles suitable for metro-distribution applications. There is no commercially available option in Australia suitable for long-haul heavy transport applications.

Australia has its own unique freight decarbonisation challenges, as vehicles are involved in transport activities associated with heavier loads and longer routes.

Hadi Ghaderi – Associate Professor, Swinburne University of Technology

Alternative fuels resources

For a look at what Australia is doing in terms of alternative fuels, its report card and future plans, here’s a selection of Australian policy and strategy documents.

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FACTS: A Framework for an Australian Clean Transport Strategy

Download the final report

iMOVE project 3-017 final report - framework for Australian clean transport strategy

iMOVE Australia’s Developing a low/zero emission transport strategy for Australia project was timely, and important, and the comprehensive final report, FACTS: Framework for an Australian Clean Transport Strategy, is now available for download.

Currently, Australia’s transport system is responsible for approximately 19% of Australia’s total greenhouse gas emissions. And growing! If Australia is to meet its overall obligations to Net Zero 2050, it is patently obvious that transport must shift, and must shift quickly, to decarbonise. In order to do so absolutely requires sustained government and industry action.

The product of the iMOVE project is an important, broad sweep of a document, FACTS: Framework for an Australian Clean Transport Strategy. It is the result of an assembly of a large group of Australian scientific experts, providing evidence-based guidance to local, state/territory and federal governments on how they can support transport decarbonisation in a timeframe congruent with global climate targets

The report is downloadable from FACTS: A Framework for an Australian Clean Transport Strategy.

Transport, alternative fuels, and achieving Net Zero targets

Taken from the FACTS: A Framework for an Australian Clean Transport Strategy, by vehicle type these are the actions in order to achieve:

  • Net zero transport sector emissions by 2050 (at the latest)
  • Net zero land transport by 2045 (at the latest)
LIGHT VEHICLES• A national target of 1 million zero emission light vehicles by 2027
• State 2027 zero emission light vehicle targets: QLD: 200k, NSW: 300k. VIC 275k, SA: 75k, WA: 100k, TAS: 25k, ACT: 20k, NT: 5k
• 55% zero emission light vehicle sales by 2030 (a fleet of 2-2.5 million vehicles)
• 100% zero emission light vehicle sales by 2035
• 100% zero emission light vehicle fleet by 2045
GOVERNMENT FLEETS• 100% of new government vehicles to be 0g CO2 /km by 2023 – where fit-for-purpose models are available
• 100% of government fleet vehicles to be 0g CO2 /km by 2027 – where fit-for-purpose models are available
• 100% of service vehicles to be 0g CO2 /km by 2030 – where fit-for-purpose models are available
DOMESTIC AVIATION• 20% fossil free domestic aviation by 2030
• 50% fossil free domestic aviation by 2035
• Net zero domestic aviation by 2045
INTERNATIONAL AVIATION• 20% fossil free international aviation by 2035
• 50% fossil free international aviation by 2045
• Net zero international aviation by 2050
BUSES• No new urban diesel buses purchased from 2023 onwards
• 100% zero emission urban bus fleet by 2030
• 100% zero emission bus fleet (transit and coaches) by 2040
MODE SHARE SHIFT• 50% active and public transport commuting share by 2035
HEAVY TRUCKS• 100% zero emission heavy truck sales by 2035 100% zero emission heavy
URBAN TRUCKS• 100% zero emission urban truck fleet by 2035
SHIPPING• 50% emissions reduction in shipping by 2040 Net zero shipping by 2050
RAIL• 100% net zero emission rail fleet by 2045
FERRIES• 100% of government supported ferry fleets to be fossil free by 2035
• 100% net zero emission ferry fleet by 2050

What is iMOVE doing in the area of alternative fuels?

iMOVE has completed work on the development of a low/zero emission transport strategy for Australia, and has produced FACTS: A Framework for an Australian Clean Transport Strategy which includes policy recommendations for all levels of government in Australia on matters of alternative fuels. This report was compiled by a group of 18 Australian scientific experts and transport practitioners.

Other iMOVE projects in the area of alternative fuels include the viability of hydrogen fuel for heavy vehicle use and an evaluation of renewable energy fuels for freight vehicles. For a full list of alternative fuel-related iMOVE projects see the list below.

Additionally, as part of our Industry PhD program we have funded several fuel-related projects, including:

What impact is iMOVE having in the area of alternative fuels?

Sustainability outcomes are a key priority in iMOVE’s research program. This encompasses a broad range of activities that contribute to the development and uptake of low emissions technologies.

The Framework for an Australian Clean Transport Strategy (FACTS) ties together many of these strands by providing a practical, easy to implement, low/zero emission transport strategy for Australia. The report provides evidence-based guidance to local, state/territory and federal governments on how they can support transport decarbonisation in a timeframe congruent with global climate targets. This roadmap draws on expertise from all modes of transport for a holistic approach to decarbonisation.

More specifically iMOVE’s projects:

  • Investigate the viability of hydrogen trucks to inform government policy and targets, and highlight key opportunities.
  • Further the understanding of vehicle to grid (V2G) technology in Australia with a view to EVs as batteries-on-wheels.
  • Develop guidelines for Low and Zero Emission Vehicle charging infrastructure.

In other projects we’re helping to have hydrogen seen as viable fuel option in trucks, electrification of bus fleets, supporting an uptake in electrification, and investing electrical power grids and smart charging infrastructure. It’s a diverse portfolio of R&D we’re excited about adding to!

And as direct results of our Industry PhD and Undergraduate Student Industry programs we are helping bring on the next generation of transport and mobility researchers and practitioners.

Contact iMOVE

But we’re nowhere near finished in this work, and would love to talk new projects, ideas, and partnerships.

If you’d like to talk to us about any R&D work in the area of alternative fuels, please get in touch with us to start a discussion.

iMOVE alternative fuels projects

iMOVE is active in carrying out R&D in the area of alternative fuels, sustainability, and Net Zero emission. Please find below our projects in these areas.