Ancient tree provides fuel for thought
by Rudi Maxwell
Peter Gould has a vision of being able to grow his own fuel on his property at Terania Creek.
Mr Gould has spent more than 10 years researching biofuels and eventually came up with what he and his business partner Martin Novak, of Whian Whian, believe is the perfect solution a plant native to both India and northern Australia called pongamia.
According to Mr Gould, pongamia grows to about 15 metres, lives up to 150 years, has been used for lamp oil in India for about 3000 years. The seed pods are 30 per cent oil and the tree produces about five tonnes of seed per hectare per annum, and the crop is a carbon sink.
“Pongamia can grow on marginal land, waste land not suitable for other crop production,” Mr Gould said. “It’s a sustainable biofuel that does not compete with food crops and enhances rather than detracts from biodiversity.”
Mr Gould said one of the problems with other biodiesel crops, for instance, palm oil, is that forests have been cleared, meaning a loss of biodiversity and a huge carbon output due to machinery and transport.
Pongamia is a perennial tree whose seed pods are harvested and crushed for the oil, which can then be refined for feedstock for biodiesel. Mr Gould said pongamia can grow in a wide variety of environments, including arid areas and also in estuaries.
“It’s an ideal set-up for remote communities. They could easily grow their own fuel-source and cut down on greenhouse emissions and even produce their own electricity,” Mr Gould said.
Mr Gould and Mr Novak’s company Earth Equity states on its website “environmentally sustainable biofuels are an essential part of the new energy mix if we are to achieve the deep cuts in carbon emissions needed to avert a planetary climate crunch”.
However north coast-based NSW Greens MLC Ian Cohen said there were questions about growing crops specifically for biodiesel.
“Primary production of biofuels is fraught with a lot of problems,” Mr Cohen said. “Where it is replacing food production, globally the price of production goes up and we have starving people in third-world countries,” he said. “I hate to be negative about what might be a good idea, and I’m an enthusiastic user of biofuels, but the biodiesel I purchase in Byron Bay , I’m assured comes from a recycled product.”
Mr Cohen also said it was important to reduce overall usage of fuels if Australia was to meet its targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Mr Gould and Mr Novak are also investigating growing moringa oleifera, also native to India, for possible use in water purification, as a fresh vegetable high in vitamins C and A, protein, calcium and potassium, as natural medicine, organic press-cake fertiliser, high-quality edible oil, and “Ben Oil”, a fine lubricant in cosmetics, as well as high-yield feedstock for biodiesel.
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