Biologists produce jet fuel from gum trees


Australia’s iconic gum trees don’t just look and smell great – they could one day be used to power jets.

Compounds called terpenes found in the oil produced by eucalypts can be converted to high-energy fuel. Researchers at the Australian National University, led by Carsten Kulheim, are trying to boost terpene production through genetic analysis, advanced breeding techniques, genetic engineering and improving oil harvesting and processing.

Eucalyptus-based fuel would initially be more expensive than fossil fuels to make on a mass scale, but produce significantly fewer carbon emissions.

Planting 20 million hectares of eucalyptus species – around the same that’s currently used to grow trees for paper and pulp – could produce enough fuel for 5% of the aviation industry, Kulheim says.

The work will be published in Trends in Biotechnology.

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