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Sir Richard Branson champions alternative bio-fuel, but not carbon tax

by Jeni Bone on 6 Jul 2011
Mallee gums - the future of energy .. ©
Charismatic billionaire and Virgin Group founder, Sir Richard Branson was in Brisbane today for the Asia Pacific Cities Summit, where is launched a bio-fuel concept, offered views on a carbon tax and also spoke of his plans for space travel and deep sea research.

A well-known advocate of reducing industry's carbon impact, through the launch of The Carbon War Room, Branson advised Australians to stand against a carbon tax.

'Clean energy is becoming increasingly important for cities like Brisbane – we’re running out of oil and we have the problem of global warming. As business leaders, one of our top priorities must be to create alternative and clean fuels that won’t affect our food supply,' he said.

'We have three different airlines in Australia and we’re currently working with eucalyptus trees, which we think could one day fuel our aeroplanes so we’re investing heavily into this research.'

Last year, Branson warned UK politicians the world is running out of oil and faces an oil crunch within five years.

'The next five years will see us face another crunch – the oil crunch. This time, we do have the chance to prepare. The challenge is to use that time well,' Branson will say.

'Our message to government and businesses is clear: act,' he says in a foreword to a new report on the crisis. 'Don't let the oil crunch catch us out in the way that the credit crunch did.'

Chris Skrebowski, an independent oil consultant who prepared parts of the peak oil report for Branson and others, said that only recession is holding back a crisis: 'The next major supply constraint, along with spiking oil prices, will not occur until recession-hit demand grows to the point that it removes the current excess oil stocks and the large spare capacity held by Opec. However, once these are removed, possibly as early as 2012-13 and no later than 2014-15, oil prices are likely to spike, imperilling economic growth and causing economic dislocation.'



Virgin Australia is collaborating with Renewable Oil Corporation (ROC), Dynamotive Energy Systems Corporation (DYMTF) and Future Farm Industries Co-operative Research Centre (FFI CRC) to develop a sustainable aviation biofuel that also has benefits for the Australian farming community and the environment.

The partnership plans to use innovative fast pyrolysis technology developed by Dynamotive to process mallees, a eucalypt tree that can be grown sustainably in many parts of Australia.

Dynamotive has invested in excess of $100 Million and more than 10 years of work in developing its fast pyrolysis technology from bench-scale through to commercial-scale plants in Canada. The plants are equipped to make pyrolysis oil for fuels and also produce biochar, for soil improvement and carbon sequestration.

Dynamotive CEO Mr Andrew Kingston said 'We have a great opportunity to develop a sustainable industry in Western Australia capable of producing second generation fuels that do not require food sources and have positive effects in land and water management.'

Leading the commercialisation of mallees is the Future Farm Industries Co-operative
Research Centre (FFI CRC), a national R&D joint venture with experts in breeding, growing and harvesting these trees.

CRC CEO Mr Kevin Goss said: 'Our research shows that mallees can be planted in balance with profitable crop and livestock production in Australia’s wheatbelt region. As well as becoming a source of biomass for renewable energy they offer protection from wind erosion, help to avoid dryland salinity and provide improved livestock shelter. They even provide habitat for native birds and mammals.'

Already more than 1,000 farmers have planted mallees in belts on their farms, mainly in
Western Australia. Later this year the FFI CRC partnership will bring the prototype, world’s first hardwood biomass harvester to Western Australia for wide-scale demonstrations.

Virgin Australia and its partners are currently finalising plans for a demonstration unit that will make bio-fuels for testing, certification and public trials. The demonstration unit is intended to be operational in 2012, after the construction of a commercial-scale plant, which could be operational as early as 2014.

But what the assembled media was even more keen to hear was Branson's views on the pending annoucement of Australia's stance on carbon pricing.

'As far as the carbon tax is concerned, ideally it should be done, just like any tax should done, on a global basis. It shouldn’t be implemented on a country by country basis because it will disadvantage individual countries and companies.'

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