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Koala food may power US Defence force

US Navy bigwig boosting biofuel in Queensland visit

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Koalas might soon face a food shortage if the US Department of Defence pursues its interest in Australian research for the creation of biofuels from local flora.

Visiting US Navy Director for Operational Energy, Chris Tindal, has been in discussion with the University of Queensland on UQ's biofuels research, including the emerging field of ‘drop-in’ biofuels.

UQ teams of scientists, engineers and economists are currently working on technology developments in biofuels based on a range of feedstocks, including sugar cane, algae, eucalypts (the koala's sole food source), and the oily seeds of the pongamia tree.

The US Department of Defense is on an active drive for acquiring new “green” fuel sources for its energy requirements.

Tindal was reportedly particularly interested in UQ researchers who are making advances in areas including new-generation “drop-in” biofuels (which can be used without modification to engines or fuel systems).

“Drop-in biofuels are physically or chemically identical to traditional fossil fuels, and suit existing distribution networks and engines,” Vice-Chancellor Professor Deborah Terry said.

Both the Queensland and Australian governments have provided funding to foster UQ biofuels research, and UQ is establishing a multidisciplinary UQ Biofuels Initiative aimed at accelerating biofuels production in Australia

This program also has backing from the Institute for Molecular Bioscience, the Queensland Alliance for Agricultural and Food Innovation, the Centre for Integrative Legume Research, James Cook University, Boeing, Virgin Australia, IOR Energy, Amyris and Mackay Sugar.

The aim of this multi-stage program is to enable commercial manufacture of biofuel from Queensland sugarcane, supply the aviation fuel market in Australasia and help seed a strong and sustainable domestic advanced biofuel industry.

The next step for the initiative is to evaluate commercial viability and continue to enhance the fermentation process.

The US Navy has made a commitment that by 2020, at least half of all Navy energy - afloat and ashore - will come from non-traditional sources.

In his State of the Union address two weeks ago, President Barack Obama outlined the Navy's energy security goals, including its commitment to consume one gigawatt of new, renewable energy on its naval installations. ®

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