Australia’s iconic gum trees could be used to create jet fuel

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Australian scientists believe they may soon be able to use the country’s iconic gum trees to develop enough renewable jet fuel for up to 5 per cent of the world’ s aviation industry.

Scientists from the Australian National University (ANU) said by using compounds called monoterpenes found in eucalyptus oil, they could create a “high energy”, low-carbon fuel suitable for use in missiles and jet planes, Xinhua news agency reported.

Lead researcher Carsten Kulheim from the ANU Research School of Biology said if gum trees, part of the eucalypt family, were planted in the same numbers as those planted for paper, they could provide enough fuel for “5 per cent” of the world’s airplanes.

“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 percent of the aviation industry,” Kulheim said in a statement on Monday.

He said while a eucalyptus-based fuel would initially cost more to create compared to traditional fossil fuels, the renewable fuel would produce significantly less net carbon emissions.

Kulheim said modern jet aircraft could not be powered with other renewable fuels such as ethanol – as is found in cars – due to the high energy required, while eucalyptus oils could be refined into the high-energy fuel suitable for aviation.

“Renewable ethanol and biodiesel might be okay for the family SUV, but they just don’t have a high enough energy density to be used in the aviation industry,” he said.

“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.”

Pine trees were considered as another potential source of the “monoterpenes”, however it was decided that pines grow more slowly than eucalypt trees.

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