Dr David Lewis (R) with Dr Peter Ashman, who also participates in the algae fuel production programme. (Photo Credit: University of Adelaide)
Adelaide team breaking ground with algal biofuels
Wednesday, April 10, 2013, 02:50 (GMT + 9)
A team of Adelaide scientists is currently leading an international race to commercially generate renewable biofuels from micro-algae on a commercial basis.
The upcoming AUD 8 million (USD 8.3 million) algal biofuel demonstration project in Whyalla has the potential to create a thriving new industry in South Australia.
This development has been led the research company Muradel, a joint venture between the University of Adelaide, Murdoch University and SQC, an offspring of India's largest energy infrastructure company and the main source of private funding.
Muradel chief technology officer and University of Adelaide Associate Professor David Lewis is hopeful that its revolutionary process will produce hundreds of millions of dollars worth of oil a year in South Australia alone within 20 years.
The company will start building the country’s first demonstration micro-algae conversion plant in Whyalla in June. It will grow the micro-algae in ponds and then process it into a biofuel with properties very similar to oil, Adelaide Now reports.
The idea is to show the viability of the technology and prove Muradel is ready to receive investors by the end of 2014. The technology could eventually transform micro-algae into sustainable “green crude” for the existing petroleum industry and supply fuel to fly planes, Biofuels Digest reports.
What helped bring Muradel to this point is a AUD 4.4 million (USD 4.6 million) investment made last February by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency's (ARENA) Advanced Biofuels Investment Readiness Programme.
"We have achieved the best production rates of oil from algae grown in open saline ponds in the world, giving our partners confidence about creating commercial quantities of clean biofuel," Lewis said.
He commented that the next challenge is cutting the cost of producing oil from micro-algae from AUD 9.90 (USD 10.28) per l in its Karratha trial to less than AUD 1 (USD 1.04) a litre at Whyalla -- this is why ARENA provided it with a grant.
According to Lewis, the Whyalla area is ideal for micro-algae production because it has a suitable climate and algae is not a food crop. Plus, it is close to the sea and industry and boasts a large area of low-cost wasteland where they can grow feedstocks.
If the ARENA project is successful, the firm will begin forming commercial ventures to build modules that will generate micro-algae and then oil in the Whyalla area.
Lewis said that a 750ha unit would be able to produce 50,000 l of diesel a week, or enough to fuel a moderate-sized trucking company.
"I'm hopeful that we will be producing renewable fuels from micro-algae at different locations around the world within 10 years," he said. "It won't replace fossil fuel, but it will supplement it.”
The second phase of the Whyalla project entails a AUD 10 million integrated renewable energy facility involving the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Cell Walls and AusAgave. The idea is to reduce the plant’s overheads and maximise its potential by using multiple feedstocks, including micro-algae, wheat straw and agave.
By Natalia Real