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Bioenergy to fuel growth in regional Australia


Brigid Veale
10 August 2009
Up to 30 per cent of fuel for Australia’s road transport and the aviation industry could be generated through biofuels, creating tens of thousands of jobs in rural and regional Australia and adding $5 billion to Australia’s economy.

A new analysis on second generation biofuels, conducted by Southern Cross University’s Centre for Plant Conservation Genetics, shows that by 2025, 30 per cent of the country’s petrol could be provided by bioenergy.

“This would involve the construction of more than 100 conversion facilities, all located in rural and regional Australia,” said Professor Robert Henry, director of the Centre.

“Biofuels can make a real difference in terms of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. We now believe that the technology will allow these biofuels to be a significant contributor to transport fuel.

“And we also now know that we can do that without adversely impacting on food production or biodiversity.”

Professor Henry said research conducted through the Centre had shown that plant material from high-yielding crops could be used in the production of biofuels.

“What that means is we can use the bi-product of plants, such as bagasse from sugar cane, rather than using the edible parts of the plant, which are used for food production,” he said.

“This avoids direct competition with food production and makes a much wider range of plants possible as sources of biomass. We can also grow these plants on land that doesn’t displace food crops.”

Professor Henry said eucalypts, which could be grown on marginal grazing land, could be one of the prime sources of biofuel providing an alternative income source for graziers in rural and regional Australia.

“What we are aiming to do is develop fuels that can go into existing cars,” he said.

“The spin-off for rural and regional communities in new jobs is enormous. We estimate that between 2015 and 2025, more than 3450 jobs could be created in agriculture and transport, more than 28,000 in the construction of the facilities and more than 16,000 in the ongoing operation of these facilities.

“In the United States, the first commercial scale facilities are coming on line and we are working closely with the United States Department of Energy. In Brazil, close to 50 per cent of the transport fuel is coming from sugar cane and they are becoming a major exporter. We want to ensure Australia is not left behind.”

Professor Henry said the Centre had attracted national and international partners to develop a major research initiative in this area.

Professor Henry is presenting his latest research at the 14th Australasian Plant Breeding Conference in Cairns today (Monday, August 10).

Photo: Professor Robert Henry.