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Can Airlines Really Fly on Eucalyptus Leaves?

koala eucalyptus

This is a guest post by David Boyd

It sounds crazy, but eucalyptus leaves may soon become the new jet fuel. Virgin Australia Ltd. plan to turn the proliferate foliage into fuel to protect the environment. Eucalyptus has long been the diet of choice for Koalas, but soon could essentially be converted to fuel for airplanes. Currently, Virgin Australia is the only airline piloting this experimental alternative fuel. If they succeed, it won’t be long until the new biofuel spreads to other airlines for use.

koala eucalyptusImage: AnimalSpecies

To investigate the alternative fuel, Virgin Australia has formed a joint venture with Melbourne’s Renewable Oil Corporation and Vancouver’s Dynamotive Energy Systems. They are focusing on the mallee species of the eucalyptus tree.

Eucalyptus trees are ubiquitous in Australia and are a hardy tree that flourish in many parts of the country due to the dry landscape. Since Australia has an abundant supply of these trees it would be a wonderful alternative fuel and a potential new export. There is also a clear advantage in using eucalyptus leaves as an alternative aviation fuel – they do not freeze at the higher altitudes. However, the study has actually been running since 2009 yet there is still no clear indication of when the biofuel will be available. Still, it’s hard to quell the anticipation.

Blue-leaved Mallee
mallee treeImage: HelloMojo and John Moss

Virgin’s CEO Richard Branson is heading the project and announced that Virgin Australia was putting all of their funding into researching the alternative fuel source. With around 300 businesses worldwide and a wealth of experience and knowledge in research and development, Sir Branson is certainly suited to the job in hand.

With rising fuel costs globally a concern, a radical innovation like this could be monumental for the airline industry as a whole. Oil prices are anticipated to rise over $200 per barrel and that could set everyone into a recession, once again. Anything that could provide a cheaper fuel price is good for the environment, and lower costs would be more than welcome.

richard branson virginImage: Virgin Australia

A recent study stated that the use of biofuel could slash Australia’s dependence on international fuel imports by up to $2 million a year. Whatever way one looks at it, this is a beneficial study for all involved. With oil prices high and ongoing economic pressures looming large, an alternative fuel would be a valuable find. Innovation hopefully can lead to decreased pollution, increased productivity and lower prices for airlines and passengers.

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