Queensland’s circular bioeconomy in the world news

Queensland’s circular bioeconomy in the world news

This article appeared in the Biofuels Digest – USA. Photo courtesy of the ABC.

In the last few days, a Queensland oil refinery said it is making biofuel from old tyres and hopes to commercialise it soon to help take care of a huge tyre waste issue in Australia as well as help the country’s fuel security. One tyre equals two litres of fuel and Southern Oil Refineries said it has conducted large-scale pilot tests showing it works. They are moving into demo stage this year and plan on producing 10 to 20 million litres next year.

Southern Oil Refineries general manager Ben Tabulo told ABC News, “[We’ve proven] renewable diesel can work in Australia’s engines and does have the same efficiency on the road. The renewable diesel … has been refined from post-consumer waste, mainly mixed tyre crude oil and refined into 100 per cent drop-in diesel. Our laboratory has shown this diesel is indistinguishable from fossil diesel and will give all the performance that you expect from fossil diesel. Today we’ve put renewable diesel made from tyres, into this engine … it is a normal engine as you would find it trucks and boats, there is nothing special about it.”

Scania, one of the largest producers of heavy vehicle and industrial engines globally, is working with them to approve the fuel for use in their engines. Scania national manager Andre Arm told ABC News, “I think sustainable fuel is the future and no one can deny that there is a push worldwide to have a look at where we’re going with our conventional fuel. It shows Aussie ingenuity, it provides the possibility for fuel security and there’s the environmental benefit as well for sure.”

Government-backed bio-economy

When we talk about innovators, we usually talk about inventors, researchers, the geniuses behind the newest technologies, but a government can also fill that role, as Queensland did just a few months ago. The Queensland government was the first jurisdiction in the world to sign on to below50, the low-carbon emissions initiative, highlighting their commitment to a more sustainable fuel industry for the state. below50 is a global campaign of WBCSD promoting the production and implementation of fuels which produce 50% less CO2 emissions compared to traditional fossil fuels.

Coupled with the biofuel mandate, the move further promotes the state’s biofuels industry, looking to capitalise on a gap in the Asia-Pacific to make Queensland a regional biofuels hub.

As the regional hub host of below50 Australia, QRFA has been driving a low-carbon fuel economy and promoting further uptake of sustainable fuels for the state and Australia.

QRFA managing director Larissa Rose said: “Queensland is in prime position to become a world leader in renewable and biofuels, with its large agriculture sector, its proximity to Asia, and possessing State Government backing.”

Queensland’s potential as a biofuel hub in the Asian Pacific region was also brought up during government meetings in D.C. back in July 2018 between Queensland’s Minister for State Development, Manufacturing, Infrastructure and Planning Cameron Dick and the U.S. Department of the Navy, as reported in The Digest. The Minister met at the Pentagon with biofuel experts and announced the appointment of Queensland’s new US-based Strategic Biofutures Advisor, Chris Tindal.

The Queensland government and the US Department of the Navy signed a Statement of Cooperation in August 2016 to collaborate on developing alternative fuels. “Since the agreement with the US Navy was signed we have seen positive growth for the industry here, Minister Dick told Manufacturers’ Monthly. “The Northern Oil Advanced Biofuels Pilot Plant, Australia’s first advanced pilot biofuels refinery, has been constructed, and work is underway for the production of fuels that meet military requirements.”

Innovating tomorrow, today

Southern Oil Refineries and the government aren’t the only innovators and forward thinkers in Queensland, however. You don’t have to look very far to see R&D work being done to discover the next best thing for our bioeconomy.

Researchers at the University of Queensland supported by the US Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) and Sugar Research Australia are testing a range of sugarcane varieties to identify which types produce ethanol most effectively and efficiently, as reported in The Digest in March. Their gene-editing of sugarcane for use in renewable energy and bio-plastics could help secure the industry’s future.

Researchers are also collaborating with the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi to investigate processes that break down sugarcane fibre to make bioplastics.

Another study being conducted by researchers at Queensland University of Technology’s Centre for Tropical Coprs and Biocommodities is the first to assess biofuels from biomass before turning to bottles and will look at whether PEF from sugarcane can be more economical than PET at scale.

The three-month pilot is looking at the economic viability of turning sugarcane waste, bagasse, into other compounds including plastic bottles. It is being conducted in partnership with Mercurius Australia using a patented process created by the U.S. based parent company Mercurius Biorefining.

Funded by the Queensland Government’s A$150M Jobs and Regional Growth Fund and the aim is to take the bagasse and produce biofuel and bioplastics at scale in a sustainable manner. Dr Rackemann told Beverage Daily that “The science has been proven. The engineering now is trying to prove the economics.”

And speaking of investment…

Putting money where your mouth is

Ok, so the government is on board. Innovative companies are on board. Researchers and scientists are on board. But what about the investors? Looks like they are on board too, given the latest investment action in recent months – heck, even in the last few weeks.

Proposals were recently being accepted for the $5-million, Queensland Waste to Biofutures Fund aimed at cultivating technologies that convert waste into useful products and create jobs in the state, as reported in NUU in March. Feedstocks can include food and household wastes, tyres, plastics, fats and oils, and biosolids from sewage treatment facilities.

“The Queensland Waste to Biofutures Fund offers grants from $50,000 to $1 million to develop pilot, demonstration or commercial-scale projects that produce bio-based products instead of conventional fossil fuel-based products,” Minister for State Development, Manufacturing, Infrastructure and Planning, Cameron Dick tells Energy Magazine. “The fund will support projects that transform carbon-rich waste from agriculture, food processing, construction and industrial processes into bioenergy, biofuels and bioproducts. Through this initiative we’ll see innovative waste processing technologies emerge that are scalable and can be deployed statewide, particularly in regional areas of Queensland.”

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk is even promoting Queensland overseas for additional investments with a recent trip to Germany. At an event hosted by Australia’s Ambassador to Germany, Lynette Wood, the Premier said “Germany and Queensland are entering a new era of innovation-led investor relations, which will be strengthened further by the new Free Trade Agreement currently being negotiated between the EU and Australia and my Government’s $650 million Advance Queensland initiative.”

She also met with German representatives at top companies like Bombardier Transport, ShareNow, Siemens Energy, renewables finance group KfW and waste management company Remondis International, a variety of logistics companies during her trip last week. She mentioned that DB Schenker has been involved in bringing sustainable aviation fuel to the Brisbane Airport.

Shell is even investing in Queensland, albeit for an 800-hectare endangered native forest regeneration project.

Bottom line

We see the makings of a positive future for Queensland – between the government’s realization that the bioeconomy is key and worth supporting, the investments in R&D and initiatives to promote biobased businesses, and the already existing entrepreneurship and innovation that is creating new technologies, Queensland is sure to lead by example.

MREC HERE

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