The tropical rainforest tree Copaifera langsdorffii is known as the "diesel tree" or "kerosene tree". It produces a large amount of terpene hydrocarbons in its wood and leaves. One tree can produce 30 to 40 liters of hydrocarbons per year. The oil is collected by tree tapping much like rubber trees, but instead of rubbery latex, it gives up a natural biodiesel.
The particular hydrocarbons the tree produces are so well suited to powering diesel engines that they can almost be put directly in the tank from the tree. Itís harvested in much the same way as a maple tree is tapped for producing syrup. It doesnít need any complex refining, so once itís filtered, it can go straight into a diesel tractor or truck. A single tree can continue to produce fuel oil for 70 years. It seems the only negative is this particular form of diesel has to be used within three months of extraction.
On a worldwide scale, it doesn't seem all that impossible to alleviate oil shortages with plants...and the natural carbon offsets seem worthwhile. It's just too bad these trees take 15-20 years to mature.
There is question as to whether or not the tree is financially viable as a fuel source; it is estimated that 100 trees could produce 25 barrels annually, which is an awfully low figure for the investment necessary in the land and upkeep of the trees. Additionally, the fuel does not keep for very long and loses its potency after a few months.
So while the natural diesel seems not to be an option for export, it could prove well suited to sustaining the fuel needs of individual farms. Thatís one experiment North Queensland farmers are undertaking in hopes of achieving fuel independence when the trees mature, with over 20,000 trees planted so far in these tropical parts of Australia.