Australia is one step closer to having its first commercial biorefinery this week, with plans to develop a biocrude and biofuel laboratory in Queensland winning $2.4 million in funding from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.
The $5.4 million project, which will be by headed up by Southern Oil Refining (SOR) in Yarwun, near Gladstone, will inform the feasibility and design of a proposed commercial scale biorefinery that would produce renewable diesel and jet fuels from plant material.
It’s been a while between drinks for Australia’s nascent biofuel industry, although a QUT biogas project was named in ARENA’s latest funding round.
Queensland, in particular, has kept biofuel production on its radar; as we reported here, it was last year tipped as “the next growth industry” for regional Queensland by Premier Anastasia Palaszczuk, while on her first trade mission as Premier, investigating the potential for her state to become a green fuel supplier to the US Navy.
ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht said on Thursday there was clear potential for biofuel production and refining in Australia.
“Our agricultural industries have an abundance of plant waste that can be ideal biocrude feedstock and there are several potential markets for selling green fuels including aviation, shipping and defence,” Frischknecht said in a statement.
Already, ARENA has supported other Australian companies to develop technologies for producing biocrude – including Muradel and Licella – but there remains no way of refining this into large quantities of useable biofuels, according to Frischknecht.
“A new biorefinery would be the first step in providing the missing link in the development of an Australian biofuels industry,” he said.
In 2013, ARENA provided a $4.4 million grant for a “marine algal production and harvesting technology” demonstration plant to be built by Muradel, in partnership with Murdoch University, Adelaide Research and Innovation and SQC, in the South Australian industrial city of Whyalla (see image below).
Muradel said in April it was due to receive a new federal grant – and had already received $500,000 from the state government – to scale up its demonstration plant and refocus on new feedstock, inclduing car tyres and biosolids from municipal waste streams.
Prior to Muradel, ARENA allocated $5.4 million for Licella to conduct an $8.2 million feasibility study into the construction of a plant that could produce “bio-crude” made from plant biomass, including sawdust.
According to the ARENA announcement this week, SOR has struck in-principle agreements with both Muradel and Licella for the supply of biocrude for refining.
Frischknecht believes the the economic opportunities from the joint venture project could be significant.
“The United States Navy has a 50 per cent target for alternative energy sources by 2020 and the Royal Australian Navy has signed an agreement to explore using more environmentally friendly fuels, significantly increasing demand for green-fuels,” he said.
“Major Australian airlines are also considering these fuels to meet industry-agreed emission reduction targets, with Air New Zealand and Virgin Australia recently announcing a partnership to investigate options for locally-produced aviation biofuel.”
ARENA says the test laboratory, which is scheduled for completion in March 2019, will characterise biocrudes and biofuels and provide a blueprint for a commercial refinery.
“SOR will carry out testing and reporting to produce valuable knowledge for Australia’s bioenergy industry,” Frischknect said. “New protocols for the conversion of biocrudes to drop-in fuels will also be established.
“This new knowledge and infrastructure is an important and necessary step towards attracting further investment in the biofuels supply chain in Australia.”
Sophie is editor of OneStepOffTheGrid.com.au and deputy editor of its sister site, RenewEconomy.com.au. Sophie has been writing about clean energy for more than a decade.