New fuel for future travel

PLANES flying across the world using liquid fuel made out of eucalyptus trees is the vision Southern Cross Uni- versity’s Professor Robert Henry has in mind for the future.

As director of the East Lismore campus’s Centre of Plant Conservation Genetics, Prof Henry is working with scientists in the United States and Australia to develop liquid transport fuel from plant matter.

The second-generation biofuel technology had the capacity to change the way we look at biofuels, Prof Henry said. “By 2025 we should be able to replace 30 per cent of petrol with ethanol made out of eucalyptus,” he said.

Prof Henry said it was the woody part of the plant, not the oil, that was used to make the biofuel, which was ideal for long-distance transport.

“In urban areas electric cars can be used, but in regional Australia high energy liquid fuel is the way to go because of the long distances,” the professor exp- lained.

“In Brazil, 50 per cent of all fuel is ethanol made from sugar cane.”

Prof Henry has been at Southern Cross University since 1996 and has spent a lot of time looking at plants for human use.

The beauty of the new biofuel technology was that eucalyptus was fast-growing and could flourish in poor soil, not just in Australia, but around the world, he said.

This meant producing the natural resource for eucalyptus-based ethanol did not take away land used for food production, he said.

SCU has teamed up with University of Tasmania and the Australian National Uni- versity to develop a Eucalyptus Centre of Excellence, and together they have applied for $25 million through the Australian Research Council to study the DNA of the eucalypt.

Prof Henry has his eye to Australia’s future.

“We need a carbon neutral liquid fuel for planes to keep our tourist intake up,” he said. “It is the only route for dealing with climate change.”

Prof Henry’s new book, Plant Resources for Food, Fuel and Conservation, is out next month.



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