As Australia presses ahead with its net zero emissions commitments, some believe the key to greener fuels could be hidden in the oil-rich seeds of the native beauty leaf tree.
the main points:
- The original beauty leaf tree can be grown in large-scale plantations on marginal land for biofuel production
- Researcher Nanjappa Ashwath says trees can produce 4,000 liters of biofuel per hectare each year
- The bioenergy sector could contribute an additional $10 billion to the economy annually by 2030
Bioenergy occurs when low-emissions electricity is extracted from waste, with fuel sources often coming from the agricultural and forestry industries.
But CQ University researcher Nanjappa Ashwath says he found the camel leaf tree, or Calophyllum Inophyllum, it can be grown on marginal land, ending the land-for-food-for-fuel debate that has plagued the biofuel sector.
The assistant professor describes the thorns of the tree as resembling a medium-sized mango tree, or a macadamia tree with seeds and kernels inside but with a softer rind.
He said the biofuels produced inside that shell had been tested in engines with “slight energy reduction” compared to conventional petroleum diesel. Its performance was similar to other biodiesel.
In good news for time-poor producers, Dr. Ashwath said the seeds do not require a harvest because they have naturally fallen to the ground and can be collected after six months.
The oils of the tree can also be made into the less lucrative medicinal tamanu oil, he said, costing about $25 for 15 milliliters.
Dr. Ashwath said his research showed the plant thrived well in soils that were not rich in nutrients.
Although it does not grow in drought, he said it tolerates hot, dry conditions as well as waterlogging, making it a suitable farm for areas in northern Australia from Rockhampton to Cairns, including around Darwin.
The federal government outlined its commitment to bioenergy in its release of its first bioenergy roadmap in November.
The roadmap says that by the start of the next decade, the sector could contribute about $10 billion in additional GDP annually with 26,200 new jobs, reducing emissions by 9 percent and enhancing fuel security.
It also expects bioenergy to grow from 3 per cent of Australia’s total energy consumption to as much as 20 per cent by the 1950s.
Dr Ashwath said overall demand for biodiesel remained low because it was still cheaper to buy conventional petroleum diesel, but other countries had shown interest in the camel leaf tree.
“Papua New Guinea is also interested in cultivating these farms because these farms are naturally occurring, and Sri Lanka is also doing a lot of research on this.”
But Dr. Ashwath said that for producers looking for additional income, farms of thousands of hectares would be needed to turn a profit.