Australian study assesses biodiesel feedstocks

By Erin Voegele | November 17, 2010
Posted Dec. 15, 2010

A report recently released by the Australian Government's Rural Industries Research and Development Corp. investigated the potential for using native and naturalized plant species as feedstock for biodiesel production. The study, "Evaluating Biodiesel Potential of Australian Native and Naturalised Plant Species," assessed the feasibility of more than 200 potential feedstocks and determined that 20 locally available species have commercial potential.

"It is widely regarded that bioenergy could play a significant role in a low-carbon energy future in Australia," said Roslyn Prinsley, general manger of the RIRDC's New Rural Industries program. "It could help reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and provide an alternative income source for farmers though the establishment of new rural industries. But to achieve sustainable industry expansion, we need a solid scientific basis to help inform industry and government decision making, and drive potential private sector investment. [This report] will help us understand which potential feedstocks are commercially viable and best suited to Australia's growing conditions, in particular our unique climate and soils. And, importantly, the studies help to dispel the myth that the production of bioenergy feedstocks has to come at the expense of land destined to grow crops for human consumption."

The study, which focused on the central Queensland region of Australia, had three primary objectives; to identify native plant species that produce significant quantities of oil and grow well on marginal lands, to test the seeds of these species for oil content, and to examine the oil yield potential of selected species. Plant types evaluated during the course of the study included trees, shrubs, palms, herbaceous species and weedy species.

According to the report, fruits or seeds were obtained for each plant through field collection, seedbanks or commercial seed companies. The seeds were then analyzed for oil content. Of the more than 200 plant species tested, the researchers determined that 20 that featured substantial oil content. Oil from the 20 selected species was then analyzed for fatty acid composition, which was used to calculate biodiesel properties. In addition, oil from each of the 20 selected species was converted into biodiesel, with the resulting fuel evaluated for basic property characteristics. Biodiesel produced from one species, Calophyllum inophyllum, also underwent engine performance testing.

The 20 species identified by the study as potential biodiesel feedstocks include:

1. Calophyllum inophyllum (Beauty leaf tree): The perennial tree flowers twice a year, producing up to 8,000 fruits per plant annually. Each fruit contains a kernel that contains approximately 46 percent nonedible oil. The highly acidic and viscous oil was found to yield inferior quality biodiesel using conventional conversion processes, but modified production processes led to better results. As part of the study, researchers conducted engine tests using B5 and B20 biodiesel produced with Beauty leaf tree oil and found that it performed as well as conventional diesel.

2. Aleurites moluccana (Candle nut tree): The fast growing tree produces up to 7,000 fruits per tree annually. Each fruit contains one or two seeds, which contain approximately 47 percent oil. According to researchers, the oil contains a high quantity of linolenic acid, which might pose problems with its use as a biodiesel feedstock.

3. Syagrus romanzoffiana (Queen palm): The naturalized palm species bears fruits in panicles, each of which produces a kernel that contains 41 to 47 percent oil.

4. Murraya exotica (Mock orange): The naturalized species bears fruit in both autumn and spring. The resulting seeds contain 22 percent oil.

5. Cordyline manners-suttoniae (Cordyline): The palm-like plant produces berries. The seeds of the berries contain approximately 15 percent oil.

6. Grevillea banksii (Grevillea): The shrub bears a large number of fruits. The resulting seeds contain 15 percent oil.

7. Elaeocarpus grandis (Blue quandong): The tree produces fruits each contain a tiny kernel. The oil content of each kernel is approximately 38 percent. However, the proportion of the kernel to seed is very low.

8. Ochna serrulata (Ochna): The shrub produces seeds that contain 31 percent oil.

9. Brachychiton bidwillii: The deciduous shrub produces fruits, each of which contain 20 to 30 pea-sized seeds. The seeds have an oil content of 15 percent.

10. Koelreuteria formosana (Chinese rain tree): The naturalized tree has been classified as a weed due to its aggressive growth patterns. It produces seeds that contain 22 percent oil.
 
 
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