December 13, 2005

Fuel oil: Farmer Hobbs grows his own

Plant it, grow it, rotate it, burn it

This is not such a ridiculous concept for Steven Hobbs, farmer working the land at Kaniva, eighty kilometres west of Dimboola near the Victorian/South Australian border. He's gone into production of his own bio-diesel fuel to beat the rising commercial fuel prices. "My experience began... five years ago when I was first exposed to the idea of growing bio-diesel as a farmer," he says. "Initially it started as a philosophical statement... I believe in farmers making themselves more sustainable."

The material Steven uses to produce his own fuel is found in his own backyard. "Being a farmer I actually already grow it. I grow canola... and traditionally [farmers have] sold it into... [the] human consumption market," he says.

"Essentially bio-diesel is a modified vegetable oil. A chemical process that's used to remove the glycerol component from the molecule... essentially transforms the vegetable oil into a... renewable fuel... that has very much the same characteristics as conventional fossil diesel, except it has the advantages of reducing emissions up to 60 per cent. And it's also a renewable source of energy," he says.

Yet the idea of renewable energy is not new to Australian farmers. "It's not a new idea - every farmer in Australia used to do it, they used to allocate 25 per cent of their cropping area for oats to cut for horses. Horses were organic tractors, if you want to put it that way," he says.

For Steven, the current global trend upwards in fuel prices provides great incentive for Australian farmers to get in on the fuel market, and to help reduce fossil emissions contributing to the greenhouse effect.

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