Cars fuelled by trees?

Monash University is leading a research project to turn the humble Mallee tree into an alternative vehicle fuel.

MonashUniversity is leading a research project to turn the humble Mallee tree into an alternative vehicle fuel that could also help solve Australia‘s soil salinity problem.

Dr. Damon Honnery, a senior lecturer in the Department of Mechanical Engineering in the Faculty of Engineering, said the wood from the Oil Mallee tree can be super-heated to produce a vapour that can be condensed into liquid.

“After refining, the condensed liquid could be used as a fuel for diesel engines,”  Honnery said.

“Planting these Oil Mallee trees, that are common to Western Australia, would also provide a solution to Australia ‘s soil salinity problem,” Honnery added.

“It was the complex root system of the Mallee that kept the water table deep within the soil, and kept the salt levels low in the top soil. Colleagues from Western Australia‘s Department of Conservation and Land Management have shown that these roots continue to grow even when the wood from the tree branches is being harvested. And, like all trees they can reduce greenhouse gases produced from vehicle emissions because they store carbon.”

Farmers in Western Australia are already re-planting the Oil Mallee to help reduce salinity, and Honnery believes farmers in other salt-affected areas should do the same.

“Being able to produce income from fuel derived from a solution to an environmental problem like salinity will mean there is a greater incentive for farmers to take up plantation of Oil Mallee trees,” said Honnery.

The large project, funded by the Australian Research Council, involves researchers from Monash, University of Melbourne and AstonUniversity in the UK. They are working out the complex chemical composition of the Mallee fuel, how to produce such a fuel and how it could be adapted to run diesel engines.

“We cannot look at problems such as air pollution and salinity in isolation from each other and this fuel allows us, potentially, to solve two problems at once,” Honnery concluded.