In addition to ARENA funding, the $48 million project will be funded by $11.9 million from industry partners as well as contributions from Muswellbrook Shire Council and the University.
Led by a group of researchers including conjoint lecturer and Ethtec senior biotechnologist, Dr. Geoff Doherty, the project will develop an environmentally sustainable process to produce biofuels and other renewable chemicals from crop and forestry wastes.
Currently farmers need to decide whether their crops are used for food or fuel production, as ethanol is produced from the valuable food portion, known as ‘first generation technology’
Ethtec technology will eliminate the food versus fuel tension as the process will use the waste streams left behind once the food portion has been harvested from crops, known as ‘second generation technology’, which may also give farmers a second source of income.
The project will help the country tap into a $130 billion ethanol industry that currently only makes up approximately 1 percent of Australia’s fuel consumption, and will provide a pathway to a sustainable export market for Australian produced ethanol.
“This project is about developing the engineering data behind the process to ensure it is commercially viable. We know you can take waste streams, convert them into sugars and then turn those sugars into biofuels or green chemicals, but it’s got to be competitive with crude oil products,” Dr. Doherty explained.
With 98% of Australia’s transport energy still derived from fossil fuels, Dr. Doherty said Australia was lagging behind the rest of the world in the bioenergy sector.
“By displacing a litre of petrol with second generation ethanol, greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced by over 90 percent. A lot of other countries are developing bio economies and finding ways to make biofuels and green chemicals from their agricultural resources, whereas we’ve had such a good run with our resources sector that we haven’t been forced to innovate.
“I think it’s widely recognized now though that we do need to start innovating, particularly if we want agribusiness to thrive,” he said.
ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht said the next phases of the project were important in making advanced biofuels a viable option to support emission reduction for the transport sector.
“Advanced biofuels provides an exciting opportunity for Australia to open up export avenues and also help reduce emissions from the transport sector.
“Ethtec’s facility in the Hunter Valley will demonstrate a new and innovative process for the production of bioethanol, gaining pivotal research and development experience that will lead to the commercialization of the process and position Australia as a leader in advanced biofuels,” Frischknecht said.
Ethtec has formally partnered with the University’s Newcastle Institute for Energy and Resources (NIER) and Director, Professor Alan Broadfoot, said the project poses a wide range of environmental, social and economic benefits.
Ethtec’s managing director and founder, Dr Russell Reeves, an alumnus of the University, said, “We believe it is a very natural fit that Australia’s leading regional university has partnered with us to develop what we believe is Australia’s most innovative region-based technology.”
For information University of Newcastle
Photo: L-R: Professor Richard Bush, Dr Geoff Doherty and Professor Peter Lewis (University of Newcastle)