Turning trees into plane fuel could save region's farmers

A GLADSTONE councillor is branching out into a realm of strange possibility - planes fuelled by trees.

Beef industry stalwart and Gladstone regional councillor Leo Neill-Ballantine is leading the charge for a new fuel production industry in the Gladstone region.

He wants to turn unwanted trees on farms into aviation fuel and gas.

A CSIRO study into aviation biofuel production has shown bioenergy production could be a winner in central Queensland, Cr Neill-Ballantine told the Gladstone Regional Council this week.

He said farmers in the region were suffering from drought and could do with another income stream, and needed to become more resilient to drought.

"Some off-farm income is good, but as a country we need to get better at dealing with drought," he said.

"We've got kangaroos that can withhold pregnancy during a drought.

"It didn't evolve like that because it thought it was a good party trick. It's been (very) dry here a long time.

"So why, as a nation, aren't we trying to drought proof ourselves?"

Queensland is in the midst of the longest drought in its history. This month, Gladstone joined a long list of areas declared drought affected.

Farmers in the adjoining Banana Shire, next to Gladstone, are doing it so tough that their mayor announced on Wednesday the payment period for rates and water bills would be extended.

CSIRO researcher Dr Deborah O'Connell said the first phase of her project, which is now published, found biomass production for fuels and grazing could go hand in hand in central Queensland.

"We're looking specifically at using regrowth," she said. "Farmers already have to regularly clear regrowth.

"The biomass production system could be managed and harvested, with harvested biomass used to make renewable aviation fuel and gasoline.

"Early desktop studies show it is feasible and potentially economic, but we need to test these ideas on the ground.

"It's more than just a random dream," said Dr O'Connell, whose team is building partnerships with industry and seeking funds for the next phase of research.

Cr Neill-Ballantine is excited. He said the more he inspects the idea, the better it looks.

The CSIRO research team is establishing partnerships with Boeing, Queensland Department Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Queensland University of Technology, University of Sunshine Coast, CQUniversity, Agforce and Biofuel producers.



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