Friendly energy from Condo Mallee

Condobolin mallee

Mallee, a low growing eucalypt adapted to dry climates, could have new value in Central Western NSW as a renewable energy source.

"If the model we are developing proves successful, there is no reason why it cannot be replicated right across the semi arid cropping zone," manager of the NSW Department of Primary Industries research station at Condobolin, Dean Patton, said.

The Lachlan Renewable Energy Alliance (LREA) - a coalition of researchers, farmers, industry, local Aborigines and various government department representatives - is currently finalising a business plan aimed at developing a new mallee-based industry.

Many studies have considered the on-farm feasibility of a mallee enterprise but, Mr Patton says the new proposal goes one step further.

LREA was formed in early 2006 to discuss the potential of mallee as an industry, as an alternative enterprise for farmers and as a renewable energy source.

Interest has been driven by local farmers, researchers and community members looking for profitable alternative enterprises with social, environmental and economic benefits.

According to Mr Patton "mallee products are very good substitutes for fossil fuels because they contain similar energy, are renewable and reduce greenhouse gases and other harmful emissions.

"Although the LREA is considering products such as wood pellets and eucalyptus oil in its feasibility study, mallee is also capable of producing high value wood products, charcoal products and soil conditioners, fuel oil, ethanol and various pharmaceutical applications."

The specialised root system of mallee allows the leaves and stems to be harvested every 12 to 18 months.

Some wild stands have been harvested in this way for the last 100 years and are still very productive.

The area around West Wyalong is the natural home of the blue mallee (Eucalyptus polybractea), a high quality source of Eucalyptus oil.

Mr Patton said the region around Condobolin was also home to mallee and research has indicated that much of the inland cropping area of NSW is well suited to mallee production.

"Initially, the LREA expects the mallee industry could cover up to five per cent of the Condobolin area.

"This would require 280 million trees to be planted on 675 square kilometres, an area more than a quarter the size of metropolitan Sydney.

LREA says that each crop of high energy leaves and stems produces energy from atmospheric CO2 and some of the carbon is continuously and permanently stored in the root system.

"This makes energy production from Mallee very environmentally friendly," Mr Patton said.

"Few, if any, other renewable energy sources have these attributes."

LREA is planning shortly to prepare an in-depth feasibility study for the project.