21/05/2014 - 14:55

WA’s mallee industry ready for take off

21/05/2014 - 14:55

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In its last move before being disbanded, a research centre has used vital funding from an unexpected source to potentially secure a new future for Western Australia’s mallee industry.

WA’s mallee industry ready for take off

In its last move before being disbanded, a research centre has used vital funding from an unexpected source to potentially secure a new future for Western Australia’s mallee industry.

The $150,000 funding from aviation giant Airbus, along with support from Virgin Australia, has resulted in a business case for commercial production of biofuel made from mallee biomass.

Such a move could spark an industry worth $30 million per year and result in 40 new jobs by 2021.

Research using the funds, undertaken by Future Farm Industries Cooperative Research Centre in the Great Southern Region, found that biofuel made from mallee trees could be a sustainable fuel source for aircraft.

The biofuel has an added advantage in that it emits up to 40 per cent less greenhouse gases compared to using petroleum-based jet fuel.

Virgin Australia regional airlines chief executive Merren McArthur said the research findings marked a significant milestone in the search for sustainable aviation fuel solutions.

“We are now one step closer to a commercial biofuel supply in Australia thanks to this valuable research, which has shown mallee jet fuel is a more sustainable option than our current fossil based fuel,” Ms McArthur said.

The Future Farm Industries CRC will close next month when funding dries up.

Plans have been in place for a while to transfer ongoing work to the Department of Parks and Wildlife, but more funding is now being sought from the aviation industry to bring mallee biojet fuel into commercial production.

Future Farm Industries CRC research director John McGrath said he was unsure where future funding would come from, but it was likely the aviation industry would again play a vital role, with Virgin Australia providing encouraging signs.

“Further work is now required to build on the findings of the study and to progress towards commercialisation and we look forward to supporting this project as it evolves,” Ms McArthur said.

The Future Farm Industries CRC was originally designed to develop new and innovative farming systems and technologies to improve the resilience of broadacre farming to drought, salinity and climate change.

About 14,000 hectares of mallee trees planted in ‘belts’ among rows of wheat in WA have proven to reduce soil salinity and provide farmers with an additional crop that can be harvested for biomass and bio-oil.

The CRC estimated that, over the next eight years, aircraft biofuel could reduce in price from its current $1.70 per litre to between $0.80 to $1.10 per litre.

Research has shown the proposed mallee-based biofuels industry could occur with mallee crops being planted in less than 6 per cent of paddocks, so as not to compete directly with food supplies.

For its study the CRC also partnered with Dynamotive, the Renewable Oil Corporation, GE and IFP Energies Nouvelles.

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