Algae oil test plant launched in South Australia

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A $10.7m demonstration plant in Whyalla aims to produce 30,000 litres of oil a year using naturally occurring marine microalgae – an Australian first.

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Australia’s first plant testing the commercial-scale production of algae-derived crude oil has been launched in South Australia.

SA-based renewable fuels company Muradel officially opened the integrated biofuel demonstration plant on Friday, as a first step towards a commercial plant with the potential to produce 80 million litres of an environmentally sustainable fossil crude equivalent.

The $10.7 million demonstration plant, located in coastal town of Whyalla, will produce 30,000 litres of oil a year using Muradel’s Green2Black technology that produces biofuel from naturally occurring marine microalgae.

Muradel-demonstration-plant575It follows on from Muradel’s two acre open pond pilot plant near Karratha in WA, which was operated continuously for two years to test the carbon neutral technology developed by the company’s partners to grow the marine microalgae.

Development of the Whyalla plant was backed by ARENA, with a $4.4 million grant awarded back in April 2013, along with in-kind and financial support from the Whyalla City Council, the South Australian government through and Muradel’s shareholders.

At the time ARENA awarded the grant, an enlightened sounding federal Energy and Resources Minister Martin Ferguson said building an advanced biofuels industry was just one of a number of competitive advantages Australia had the chance to capitalise on – as well as its “abundant sunshine” and climate.

According to Muradel CEO and University of Adelaide Associate Professor David Lewis, if the demonstration plant is successfully scaled to a commercial plant, it will produce 500,000 barrels of refinable green crude a year by 2019 – enough petrol and diesel to fuel 30,000 vehicles for a year.

Muradel’s subcritical water reactor technology works by taking microalgae grown sustainably in seawater ponds on site, combined with plant biomass and organic waste and – within minutes – converting them to a crude oil that is functionally equivalent to fossil crude.

Standard oil refining then produces cost comparable, low net carbon, liquid transport fuels including petrol, diesel and aviation fuels. Muradel says it will begin talks next month with downstream oil processers about refining and distributing its crude as transport fuel for shipping, aviation and road vehicles.

At the commercial scale, Muradel expects production costs would be on par with the cost of producing fossil fuels for transport.

“This is world-leading technology which can be scaled up exponentially to help steer our fossil fuel-
dependent economy to a more sustainable future,” Dr Lewis said.

The planned 1000-hectare commercial plant would also create at least 100 new skilled and operational jobs in the Whyalla region.

Dr Lewis also notes that the algae ponds have the added advantage of acting as carbon sinks that can capture greenhouse gas emissions produced by Whyalla’s heavy industry.

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6 Comments
  1. Peter Thomson 4 years ago

    Nannochloropsis. The future of transport fuels.

  2. derekbolton 4 years ago

    Some double-dipping here. “..the algae ponds have the added advantage of acting as carbon sinks that can capture greenhouse gas emissions..”. No, the biofuel will later be burnt, so it is not acting as a carbon sink. All this process achieves is a double use of the same fossil carbon, first in a conventional power station, then as a biofuel. The overall sequence is still to take carbon from where it was safely buried to dumping it into the atmosphere. At best, it is a 50% reduction in carbon intensity, and that’s not good enough.

    • Alex 4 years ago

      You are right that the algae ponds are not a carbon sink, unless the algae is stored rather than burned. However, algae fuel is carbon neutral. Any carbon that is released by burning the algae fuel is absorbed in producing it. You are suggesting that the CO2 required to grow algae MUST come from a fossil fuel source. It is true that algae grows better with a concentrated CO2 source such as what you might get by burning fossil fuel, but it grows just fine in air as well. These energy sources could theoretically completely replace fossil fuel sources if technical and economic limitations are overcome.

      Also, your suggestion that a 50% reduction in carbon intensity is “not good enough” is a bit of a head-scratcher. 50% is enormous.

      • derekbolton 4 years ago

        My comment about merely being double use was based on this line in the original article:
        “Dr Lewis also notes that the algae ponds have the added advantage of
        acting as carbon sinks that can capture greenhouse gas emissions
        produced by Whyalla’s heavy industry.”
        You can’t have it both ways. Either you sequester the algae to make it a carbon sink for industry, or you are merely getting a second lot of energy out of the fossil carbon before releasing it to the atmosphere.
        50% reduction sounds great, but ultimately it is not good enough. As long as there is a net flow of carbon from fossil deposits into the biosphere seas will get more acid and the atmospheric CO2 will increase. The danger is that effort spent on technology that cannot do better than a 50% reduction delays effort that needs to be spent on 100% reduction.

        • Johnny Come Lately 4 years ago

          He might be referring to the fact that the same company also produces animal live stock feed. Which could be offsetting the total CO2 in the system.

          • derekbolton 4 years ago

            Whether animal feed or internal combustion engine feed, it still ends up in the biosphere.

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