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Awardee fuels environmental sustainability

Published: 21 January 2019

Dr Lily Ishak and a series of images showing the people she is helping in Indonesia
1. Dr Lily Ishak. 2. Dr Ishak and Associate Professor Nanjappa Ashwath (right) networking in Indonesia. 3. The oil press. 4. The collection process. 5. The drying process.

CQUniversity alumnus Dr Lily Ishak (PhD, 2017) has been instrumental in designing an oil press so Indonesian villagers can use fruit from wild beauty leaf trees to make their own biokerosene and biodiesel.

Dr Ishak has been recognised as the 2019 Alumnus of the Year - Early Career Achievement for her contribution to research, education and innovative practical applications of environmental sustainability.

Her project encourages uses of the beauty leaf tree as a source of biokerosene and biofuel to reduce dependency on fossil fuel energy while retaining plantings to reduce soil erosion from windstorms, improve degraded mined land, and address the threat of the tree's extinction through land clearing.

CQUniversity Associate Professor Nanjappa Ashwath explained that, after completing her PhD at CQUni, Dr Ishak returned to Indonesia to help her people, teaching at the Khairun University and motivating and training local people in biofuel production.

"She sought solutions to help local farmers in North Maluku who were caught up in a recent government decision to abandon kerosene use," Associate Professor Ashwath says.

"Currently most farmers use kerosene for lighting and cooking. Based on 15 years of our research at CQUniversity, I suggested Lily use the beauty leaf tree and helped her develop a grant proposal.

"Lily was successful with the Australia Award Grant and then I visited Indonesia and assisted her in running a workshop. Lily has organised several training sessions and involved four Landcare groups to raise seedlings of beauty leaf tree."

The original plan was to extract oil and convert it into biodiesel. However, during the process, the team discovered that the beauty leaf tree oil could also be used as a biokerosene – a biofuel that could easily replace kerosene, which is widely used in North Maluku.

"She then investigated the designing of an oil press so villagers could collect the fruit from wild plants and make their own biokerosene to replace kerosene which is costly and not environmentally-friendly."

“The farmers were ecstatic, as kerosene is more commonly used in North Maluku,” Dr Ishak said.

“The hydraulic press can produce one litre of biokerosene from three kilos of seeds. A plantation of beauty leaf tree can yield up to 4000 litres of biokerosene per hectare per year after five to eight years of planting."

Associate Professor Aswath says that he and Dr Ishak will continue to work collaboratively and apply for grants to continue this study on beauty leaf tree.

The beauty leaf tree is endemic in the tropical climates in Africa, Asia, the South Pacific and Australia.

Dr Ishak's project empowers the local farming community and student volunteers with knowledge and skills to farm, harvest and utilise the beauty leaf tree to improve agricultural returns and achieve land and resource sustainability, while providing an economic drive to maintain stocks of the tree.

Dr Ishak has continued her engagement with CQUniversity, with her collaborative research contributing to international presentations in the field of horticulture.