Muradel produces crude oil from algae at demonstration plant

Renewable fuel company Muradel has launched Australia’s first integrated demonstration plant to sustainably convert algae into green crude oil.
Muradel produces crude oil from algae at demonstration plant

The $10.7 million project at Whyalla, South Australia, was opened last week (Friday) by Regional Development Minister Geoff Brock and Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) CFO Ian Kay. It will produce 30,000 litres of green crude a year using Muradel’s Green2Black technology for the continuous production of an environmentally sustainable fossil crude equivalent.

The project uses microalgae produced on site as well as plant biomass and organic waste. The demonstration plant’s energy-efficient subcritical water reactor converts them in minutes to a crude oil that is functionally equivalent to fossil crude. Standard oil refining is then used to produce cost-comparable, low net carbon, liquid transport fuels including petrol, diesel and aviation fuels.

The microalgae is grown sustainably in seawater ponds on marginal land that doesn’t compete with food production and is a resilient strain that has proven to be productive all year round in the sunny Australian climate. Muradel expects production costs to be on par with producing conventional fossil fuels for transport. As well as helping the regional and national economy, the project will help to reduce emissions through the action of the algae ponds as carbon sinks.

The demonstration plant was partially funded through a $4.4 million grant from ARENA with additional in-kind and financial support from the Whyalla City Council, the South Australian Government through BioSA and Muradel shareholders.

If the demonstration project is successful it will be the first step towards a commercial plant producing 500,000 barrels per year by 2019. This would provide enough petrol and diesel to fuel 30,000 vehicles for a year. The commercial plant, once operable, would have the potential to produce an eventual 80 million litres of green crude per year.

“This is world-leading technology which can be scaled up exponentially to help steer our fossil fuel-dependent economy to a more sustainable future” said Muradel CEO and University of Adelaide Associate Proffessor David Lewis.  “At a time when Australia imports most of its crude and refined transport fuels, Muradel’s advanced biofuel technology can improve Australia’s terms of trade, reduce life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions, and improve Australia’s fuel security.”

Regional Development Minister Geoff Brock added that the Muradel project was a natural fit for South Australia’s aim to become a leader in aquaculture and renewable energy, both sectors firmly based in the region. South Australia’s State Government is focused on supporting industry diversification, investment and jobs growth. According to ARENA CFO Ian Kay, the Muradel project could be important for transitioning from fossil fuels in Australia, particularly with regard to oil, diesel and petrol for transport.

The proposed commercial plant would cover 1000 hectares and create at least 100 new skilled and operational jobs in the Whyalla region. Muradel will begin talks with downstream oil processors next month, regarding refining and distributing green crude as transport fuel for shipping, aviation and road vehicles.

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