The AdBlue crisis is avoided but the shortage of drivers is a new concern

“Saved by the bell,” he said. A federal government task force set up in early December was able to help resolve the short-term crisis by bringing industry players together.

But while additional supplies were now being produced, the high level of absenteeism among transport drivers who were sick or isolated as the omicron wave of COVID-19 intensified had created a new problem to be addressed.

Mr Henry said the industry was now facing delays in delivering new stock due to the shortage of lorry drivers in the economy.

He said DGL employed around 500 people in its Australian workforce. Absenteeism due to COVID-19 was affecting all industries in different ways, with some pockets being more affected than others. He said DGL’s warehousing operations had absenteeism rates of up to 41%.

Todd Hacking, chief executive of the Heavy Vehicle Industry Association, which oversees about 285 truck suppliers and dealers, said the peak of the crisis had passed. “We’re not off the hook yet, but it’s definitely stabilized,” he said.

“The Incitec Pivot deal was a game-changer,” Hacking said. This had allowed a rapid injection of new supplies, giving other players more time to source additional urea to increase production in the industry. The average AdBlue demand in Australia each week is around 4 million litres, he said.

Mr Hacking said absenteeism among lorry drivers was uneven across the industry, with some pockets as high as 40%. On average, it was around 10% across the industry.

Around 500,000 trucks, buses and heavy machinery in Australia depend on the diesel fluid known as AdBlue, which is made from high-grade urea and deionised water and injected from a small tank into vehicles in an exhaust system to help reduce emissions. A large number of passenger cars also need AdBlue.

Mr Henry said DGL had also been able to source additional AdBlue from its New Zealand operations for the Australian market, and had also secured a large order of 7,500 tonnes of urea from Indonesia which is expected to arrive at the end of January, further strengthening its own Queensland-based production of AusBlue, which it acquired in October.

The AusBlue activity produced approximately 30% more AdBlue than its usual production.

Mr Henry said the general slowdown in market demand for AdBlue in recent weeks as the omicron spread had been a key factor in allowing the industry to replenish stocks.

He said large parts of Sydney looked like a “ghost town”. “Australia’s east coast is probably operating at around 50 per cent of normal,” he said.

Incitec Pivot, which manufactures AdBlue at its Gibson Island plant in Brisbane, received a $29.4 million federal government grant on Dec. 20 to ramp up production of technical-grade refined urea. Incitec Pivot previously manufactured around 10% of Australia’s AdBlue, but its production levels have accelerated.

Auto parts retailer Supercheap Auto introduced mid-December purchase limits for AdBlue at the height of the crisis. The chain, which runs more than 300 stores selling parts and accessories, imposed limits of 20 liters per customer for stores that still had stock with online purchases banned, and only in-store purchases allowed.

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