Professor Robert Henry from Southern Cross University’s Centre for Plant Conservation Genetics.
Professor Robert Henry from Southern Cross University’s Centre for Plant Conservation Genetics.

Fill 'er up with gum leaves

The director of Southern Cross University’s Centre for Plant Conservation Genetics, Professor Robert Henry, believes eucalypts could be an important source of biofuels in the future.

Professor Henry is working with collaborators from the USA to develop eucalypts as a source of liquid transport fuel, developing a new generation of biofuels for the automotive and aviation industries.

“Up to 30% 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,” Professor Henry said. “By 2025, 30% 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.”

Research done at SCU has shown that plant material from high-yielding eucalypts could be used in the production of biofuels. 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 Australia without impacting on prime agricultural land.

“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,” he said.

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

“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.

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

Southern Cross University has also teamed up with the University of Tasmania and the Australian National University to develop a Eucalyptus Centre of Excellence. The universities have applied for $25 million through the Australian Research Council for the project, to study the DNA of the eucalypt.


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