Queensland takes its biofuels ambitions global

Queensland is ramping up its global profile in the biofuel industry with the newly formed Queensland Renewable Fuels Association, established in May last year, entering a partnership with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), and committing to scaling up the development and use of low-carbon fuels through the below50 initiative.

The WBCSD's below50 initiative aims to grow the global market for sustainable fuels and help achieve a carbon neutral transport sector. Sustainable fuels are defined as those that produce at least 50% less CO2 emissions than conventional fossil fuels. Below50 is part of the Council's Low Carbon Technology Partnership Initiative (LCTPi), established in 2015 in partnership with the International Energy Agency and the UN's Sustainable Development Solutions Network. It involves over 160 companies and 70 partners who have undertaken to work together to speed the transition to a net zero emissions economy.

Nine LCTPi Focus Areas have been developed: Climate Smart Agriculture, Forests as Carbon Sinks, Cement, Chemicals, Carbon Capture & Storage, Renewables, Low Carbon Transport Fuels, Low Carbon Freight and Energy Efficiency in Buildings.

Queensland is taking a leading role in the development of advanced biofuels, with the recent unveiling of the Queensland Government's Biofutures Roadmap and Action Plan.

Nearly $20 million has been allocated over three years through the Biofutures Industry Development Fund, a Biofutures Commercialisation Program, a Biofutures Acceleration Program, and a government unit, Biofutures Queensland, which will work across government, industry and the research sectors to drive development, investment and R&D in Queensland's industrial biotech and bioproducts sector.

In recent industry developments, the $16 million Northern Oil Advanced Biofuel Pilot Plant, developed by Southern Oil Refining was launched last month in Gladstone. The pilot plant will use biomass material such as sugarcane bagasse and prickly acacia as feedstock for the production of bio crude oil, which will be refined into saleable kerosene and diesel products.

Within three years of opening, the pilot plant aims to have produced one million litres of fuel for use in field trials by the US navy as part of its Great Green Fleet initiative, by the Australian Defence Force, by Australian heavy road transport operators and possibly for the aviation sector. Following the pilot stage, Southern Oil is planning a $150 million commercial-scale biofuel plant producing 200 million litres per annum of advanced biofuel suitable for military, marine and aviation use.

Southern Oil has also partnered with the Queensland University of Technology to fund research into the production of industrial products from by products generated during biofuel and recycled oil production.

Another major Queensland biofuels project is MSF Sugar’s $60 million Biorefinery Project on the Atherton Tableland.

Once operational, the project, with support from the State Government's Biofutures Acceleration Program, will produce sugar, green base load electricity and ethanol from one location, with all three products manufactured through the use of biomass materials grown locally on the Atherton Tableland. It is expected to produce 110,000 tonnes of raw sugar, 200,000 MW of green electricity for the grid and 55ML of ethanol biofuel annually. The green electricity will be base load generation operating 12 months per year using the fibre from the sugar cane and blue agave.

The Biorefinery will be an enhanced sugar mill consisting of four sections: the sugar mill, an agave juice mill, the green power station and a distillery.

MSF Sugar CEO, Mike Barry, said currently the sugar industry is too reliant on the raw sugar price and not obtaining full value from the cane.

“The crop we’re investigating to deliver on the project is blue agave, which is a new crop to Australia but it is extensively grown in Mexico to produce the drink tequila. The advantage of blue agave is that it grows in a climate similar to that of the dry tropic part of the Atherton Tableland, it produces around 400 tonne per hectare of bio-mass in 5 years, does not need irrigation, and you have a high amount of fermentable juice and fibre,” Mr Barry said.

“The technology we’ll be using to process agave is similar to what we use in the sugar industry, so the crop has huge potential for helping us to transform the sugarcane industry”.

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