Eucalypts to tackle climate change

AUSTRALIA’S eucalypts are a national resource with the potential to provide a source of fuel to reduce carbon pollution from transportation fuels.

Professor Robert Henry, director of Southern Cross University’s Centre for Plant Conservation Genetics and a leader in the genetics of eucalypts, is working with collaborators in the USA and Australia to develop eucalypts as a source of liquid transport fuel, developing a new generation of biofuels for the automotive and aviation industries.

“Australia has options to reduce carbon emissions that can create great savings in foreign exchange and create many local jobs,” Professor Henry said.

“This may allow us to move forward despite the limited outcome in Copenhagen. Up to 30 per cent of fuel for Australia’s road transport and the aviation industry could be generated through biofuels, creating tens of thousands of jobs in rural and regional Australia and adding $5 billion to Australia’s economy.

“By 2025, 30 per cent of the country’s petrol could be provided by bioenergy, involving the construction of more than 100 conversion facilities located in rural and regional Australia.

“We have world-leading researchers, from both Australia and the US, involved in this research. Our two program areas complement each other and the US, which already has commercial-scale production facilities coming on line, sees the advantage of working with us.”

Professor Henry said research conducted by Southern Cross University had already shown that plant material from high-yielding eucalypts could be used in the production of biofuels.

Additional research funding would allow the development of other non-food crops for use as fuel.

“What that means is we can use the by-product of plants, such as the woody parts of plants, rather than using the edible parts of the plant, which are used for food production,” he said.

“This avoids direct competition with food production and makes a much wider range of plants possible as sources of biomass. We can also grow these plants on land that doesn’t displace food crops.”

Professor Henry said eucalypts, which could be grown on marginal grazing land, could be one of the prime sources of biofuel, providing an alternative income source for graziers in rural and regional Australia without impacting on prime-agricultural land.

“We are anticipating that we could have the first commercial facilities operating in Australia in four to five years,” he said.

“The spin-off for rural and regional communities in new jobs is enormous. We estimate that between 2015 and 2025, more than 3450 jobs could be created in agriculture and transport, more than 28,000 in the construction of the facilities and more than 16,000 in the ongoing operation of these facilities.”

Professor Henry said car manufacturers were already moving to produce vehicles that would be compatible with biofuel.

“The automotive industry is very much in step with us and the aviation industry is also very much on our agenda,” he said.

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