Known as the feedstock for Australia's arboreal herbivorous marsupials, koalas, the humble eucalypt could soon become the feedstock for Australia's first biorefinery, according to CSIRO principal research scientist Dr Mike O'Shea.
At the 2013 annual conference for Technical and NonWoven Textiles, Dr O'Shea outlined CSIRO's vision to refine eucalyptus oil to produce intermediary compounds for use in the production of bio-derived polyethylene terephthalate, PET, a versatile polyester material.
The use of eucalyptus oil as a raw material alternative to crude oil has been known for more than 30 years. The consumer demand for sustainably-derived product and polymers from renewable resources, in combination with the volatility of the crude oil price, makes the prospect of a bio-feedstock for consumable materials an attractive proposition.
Outlining the opportunity, Dr O'Shea, from CSIRO Materials Science and Engineering, explained that the global renewable chemicals market will be worth US$59.1 billion by 2014 and that the polymers segment holds the maximum growth potential at an expected CAGR of 11 per cent from 2009 to 2014.
According to Dr O'Shea, renewable chemicals decouple economic growth from finite, non-renewable resource consumption and help diversify the feedstock portfolio.
Supply, it appears, will not hinder the proposition as many countries have invested in eucalyptus plantations. While Australia is said to have 860,000 trees, we are outdone by China with more than 2.6 million eucalypts, India with 3.9 million and Brazil with 4.25 million.
Validating CSIRO's pioneering role in scientific advances, Dr O'Shea's research promises to see Australia provide an alternative to petroleum oil-derived plastics.