Sir Richard Branson wants to turn Virgin trains into the greenest in Britain by running them on biodiesel rather than pure diesel – 15% from biological sources such as rapeseed and soya. He’s also leading a plan to build the world’s largest bioethanol plant in America. Our next door nieghbour is suffering from a common complaint of British gardeners: an overhanging leylandii hedge (not ours I hasten to add).
What’s the connection?
Well, the conjunction of these two things in my head, along with memories of about 15 years of cutting leylandii hedges led me to speculate on a couple of things. Most biofuels are derived from edible oils taken from what are essentially food crops like the mentioned soya and rape, but do those crops seem oily? After years of trimming leylandii hedges I can attest to the fun of having to scrub blobs of resin from all over me. Also, what about the calorific value of these trimmings? Try burning green maize or rape and you’ve no chance. Put a lighter to a piece of leylandii and once hot enough it bursts into flame. Couldn’t we crop this stuff and turn it into biofuel?
Think of the advantages: it only has to be planted once, it’ll yield large quantities of trimmings once or twice a year. There would be little need for herbicides, insecticides or fungicides – ever see weeds growing under a leylandii hedge, ever see such a hedge wiped out by disease or insects? The areas between the rows, where tractors would necessarily have to run, could be left fallow. These, and the hedges themselves would be excellent refuges for wildlife. After processing for oil, what’s left could also be used as fuel, maybe compacted into briquettes, fed straight into a biofuel-burning power station or turned into bioethanol. It might even be used to make compressed fibre board or paper.
Now, are there any chemists out there who can tell me I’m talking bollocks?