According to an international research, oil from the leaves of a particular eucalyptus species could be used to produce jet fuel. Australian gum leaves may be a source of food for koalas, but they can also be turned into a low-carbon, renewable jet engine fuel.
Dr. Carsten Kulheim from The Australian National University (ANU), a lead researcher in an international study published in Trends in Biotechnology, said renewable fuels that could power commercial aeroplanes were limited and expensive but a solution could be growing all around us.
“If we could plant 20 million hectares of eucalyptus species worldwide, which is currently the same amount that is planted for pulp and paper, we would be able to produce enough jet fuel for five per cent of the aviation industry,” said Dr Kulheim from the ANU Research School of Biology.
The study has found that “Eucalyptus oils contains compounds called ‘monoterpenes‘ that can be converted into a very high energy fuel, and this high energy fuel can actually fly jets and even tactical missiles”.
Turpentine from pine trees is another potential source of these monoterpenes, but pines grow more slowly than eucalyptus.
“We’re looking for species that have the right type of oil and in addition to that, since the oil is in the leaves, they need to grow a lot of leaves in a short amount of time.
Renewable fuel is claimed to generate significantly lower carbon emissions than fossil fuels, that makes it more desirable in a carbon-taxed economy but currently, eucalyptus-derived fuel is much more expensive than fossil fuels to make on a mass scale.
Mr Kainer said jet fuel derived from eucalyptus oils would be close to carbon neutral.
“It has minimal ecological impact,” he said. “We can plant these trees on marginal lands that have low rainfall, and we can also plant them in agricultural systems that have salinity problems and help them defeat that problem.”