You’d have thought that with 20,000 stories in our archives we might’ve at least mentioned this in passing. But it seems not. Australian farmers in the wet tropical region of North Queensland have bought over 20,000 of these so-called diesel trees. The intention is that in 15 or so years they’ll have their very own oil mine growing on their farmland.
Because, the Brazilian Copaifera langsdorfii, to use its botanical name, can be tapped not unlike a rubber tree, but instead of yielding rubbery latex it gives up a natural diesel. According to the nurseryman selling the trees, one hectare will yield about 12,000 litres annually. *
Once filtered—no complex refining required, apparently—it can be placed straight into a diesel tractor or truck. We read that a single Copaifera langsdorfii will continue to produce fuel oil for an impressive 70 years, with the only negative being that its particular form of diesel needs to be used within three months of extraction.
Oddly this is not news. The Center for New Crops & Plant Products, at Purdue University reports that it was first reported to the western world as far back as 1625. They observe reports from 1979 saying “Natives … drill a 5 centimeter hole into the 1-meter thick trunk and put a bung into it. Every 6 months or so, they remove the bung and collect 15 to 20 liters of the hydrocarbon.” The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation noted in a paper at the Eleventh world forestry congress back in 1997 on the topic of tree oil for cars that “… the potential of other alternatives such as the Amazon Copaifera langsdorfii need to be investigated.”
Copaifera langsdorfii can grow trunks 30 metres tall and store the oil in their unusual capilliary structure. The above image is a transverse section of the tree’s cells.
* I used to convert metric measurements in American imperial but when I discovered that the only countries that have failed to embrace metric are the USA, Liberia and Burma I stopped. However Purdue University record that “An acre of 100 mature trees might thus be able to produce 25 barrels of fuel per year.”
Image found at: ‘Richter, H.G., and Dallwitz, M.J. 2000 onwards. Commercial timbers: descriptions, illustrations, identification, and information retrieval. In English, French, German, Portuguese, and Spanish. Version: 16th April 2006. http://delta-intkey.com’