To pluto and back: Australian canola is powering Europe’s cars and trucks into the future

Friday 9 August, 2019

The amount of canola that Australia exports to Europe for biodiesel each year could fuel a small car around Australia 1 million times… or to pluto and back!

It’s become a familiar sight across Australia’s grain belt: endless paddocks of stunningly vivid yellow flowers, just begging to be photographed.

As well as being among the more camera-friendly crops, canola is one of Australia’s most valuable exports. So where are we sending our canola, and what is it used for?

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the canola cooking oil you buy at the supermarket is the major end-use of Australian canola, and it is certainly a popular and well-regarded product around the world – as is canola meal for animal feed.

But the lion’s share of exported Australian canola goes to Europe to make environmentally-friendly biodiesel to help the European Union meet its emissions targets. Two years ago AEGIC played a role in securing this market by helping the industry demonstrate that Australian canola meets the EU’s emissions requirements. This is a great example of growers receiving a reward in the form of price premiums for sustainable growing practices.

These days, more than two million tonnes of Australian canola, worth over $1 billion, is shipped to Europe each year to help power their diesel engines.

Two million tonnes… holy moly, that’s a lot of canoly!

Let’s put that number in context.

According to our calculations*, two million tonnes of Australian canola could power a small European diesel car for well over 16 billion kilometres. With certain modifications for water and space travel, our hypothetical car could:

  • Go down to the shops 2 billion times
  • Journey between Sydney and Perth 4 million times
  • Drive around Australia 1 million times
  • Circumnavigate the earth 407,000 times
  • Travel to the moon and back 21,000 times
  • Go to the sun and back 55 times
  • Fly to pluto and back… once.

This last trip would take more than 18,500 years at 100km/h, and that’s if you drove 24 hours a day (not recommended). If you’re going to attempt it, please make sure you take regular breaks and swap drivers if you feel tired. This will blow the trip time out to nearly 40,000 years (taking into account a few thousand years of sightseeing along the way), but it’s always worth being safe. Seatbelts!


More information

* Figures are rounded and/or approximated. The following assumptions have been made:

  • The average oil content of Australian canola seed is 44%.
  • Canola oil can be extracted at 85% efficiency.
  • Canola is about 9.1% lighter than water. I.e. one tonne of canola oil = about 1091 litres.
  • One tonne of canola oil = one tonne of biodiesel (taking into account additives and by-products).
  • The fuel economy of a modern small diesel car is 5L/100km.