Biofuels, a renewable source of energy from waste, have been around for two centuries, but an environmentally conscious shift from the transport sector is driving a resurgence.
An Australian-first trial using 100 percent renewable diesel from old vehicle tyres, agricultural and forestry waste, biosolids and plastics, to fuel a Scania test engine is underway.
With support from the Palaszczuk Government’s Advance Queensland Industry Attraction Fund, Southern Oil will pioneer the refining of renewable diesel fuel from the materials.
The high-end Scania V8 test engine is being used in its power generation configuration for the testing – allowing assessment of exhaust emissions, performance and response, fuel efficiency, cost and engine lifetime.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk says her government is committed to creating a sustainable, export driven biofutures industry in Queensland.
“A state-based renewable fuels industry would underpin Queensland’s domestic fuel security for decades to come,” she said.
She said that over the next 12 to 18 months, Southern Oil will be trialling renewable diesel in the test engine to show it performs identically to petroleum-based diesel in terms of performance and wear-and-tear on the engine.
“Southern Oil is also aiming to build a commercial-scale renewable fuel refinery within five years, which would create significant job opportunities and improve domestic fuel security for our state.
“This trial is a critical milestone for the development of the renewable fuel industry in Queensland,” she said.
“Warranty by an original equipment manufacturer like Scania is also crucial to commercialisation and uptake of the fuel, as it must have the identical performance and characteristics of fossil fuel.”
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As a result of the trial, renewable fuels company SynBio, a wholly owned subsidiary of South Oil, will relocate from New South Wales to Queensland.
The move will create 11 direct and 25 indirect jobs for the state. Before warranty is secured, an estimated one million litres of the renewable diesel will be trialled at Southern Oil’s advanced biofuels laboratory – a leading facility of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere.
Infrastructure and Planning Minister Cameron Dick said the government will deliver one billion to sustainable and export-orientated biotechnology and byproducts by 2026.
Southern Oil Refinery and SynBio Managing Director Tim Rose said Queensland is leading the country in biofutures and renewable fuels.
“We’re witnessing the first step toward proving renewable diesel refined in Queensland from waste products can be chemically indistinguishable from petroleum-based diesel,” Mr Rose said.
“Having a company like Scania endorse our fuel is crucial to creating commercial demand for our diesel and moving from pilot scale into demonstration scale.
“Today’s demonstration shows there’s a huge opportunity to produce 100 per cent renewable diesel fuel in Queensland from waste.
“We could also see a reduction in industry’s reliance on fossil fuels.”
Scania Australia National Manager (Engines) Andre Arm said the company was proud to be a global leader in the shift towards a sustainable transport future.
“We have developed our heavy-duty commercial vehicle, marine and industrial engines to be able to run on a variety of renewable or alternative fuels with no loss of performance or economy, while also reducing our emissions impact,” Mr Arm said.
“Scania is delighted to be a partner in the proving of this concept.”
A new plant that aims to turn biosolids from waste water treatment sewage into renewable crude oil is being built in Gladstone, Queensland.
The Federal Government is providing Southern Oil Refining with up to $4 million in funding for the $11.8 million demonstration plant.
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Biosolids will be sources from waste water treatment plants in Gladstone as well as the project’s partner Melbourne Water Corporation’s Werribee facility.
The renewable crude oil will then be upgraded to renewable diesel and potentially jet fuel.
Southern Oil Refining’s existing Northern Oil Refining facility in Gladstone will be used for the project, which is currently being used for re-refining waste oils such as transmission and engine oils.
It will treat up to one million litres of biosolids a year using a thermochemical conversion process to produce a biocrude.
Minister for the Environment Josh Frydenberg said that bioenergy projects not only provide an alternative to the stockpiling of waste, but also have the potential to help with Australia’s fuel security.
“With Australia producing over 300,000 tonnes of biosolids through sewage treatment annually, it makes sense to look for options for commercialising its disposal,” Mr Frydenberg said.
Federal Member for Flynn Mr Ken O’Dowd said he is excited for Gladstone to be the home of world-class, state of the art technology.
“Using the skills and some of the world’s best R&D and scientists, there is no stopping this remarkable ‘new age’ company from achieving this huge benefit that was once thought to be a distant aspiration,” Mr O’Dowd said.
The project was funded though the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), which also provided $2.4 million for Australia’s first biocrude and biofuel laboratory based at the same site.
A Queensland biofuels plant is researching whether they can convert plastic, tyres and an invasive weed into diesel and energy.
The Southern Oil plant currently has been able to turn softwood plantation waste and macadamia nut shells into a renewable fuel source.
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Environment and Science Minister Leeanne Enoch said the facility had so far used four waste-based products and refined it into fuel, and that another seven waste products would be tested.
“This project is amazing, and is leading the way to a sustainable fuel future for Queensland,” Ms Enoch said.
“Now they are going test another seven waste-based products, and woody material from an invasive plant known as the prickly acacia – also a Weed of National Significance – has been prioritised as the next feedstock to be refined into saleable kerosene and diesel products,” she said.
“Other products the Plant are planning to convert into renewable diesel and energy include plastics, wood waste and tyres.”
Laboratory research has begun to refine the renewable crude into jet fuels and lubricants.
Queensland’s Biofuture Envoy Professor Ian O’Hara complemented Southern Oil on the technical advancements taking place.
“To be able to produce renewable biocrude generated from different waste streams, and then apply pilot scale distillation and hyrdotreatment on site to create a certified fuel is a great accomplishment,” Professor O’Hara said.
Southern Oil’s Managing Director Tim Rose said Queensland’s emerging renewable fuel industry was not just good for the environment but also good for Queensland’s economy – with significant benefits flowing through to regional Queensland.
“While we have invested heavily in a world class laboratory and cutting edge technology to produce a certified fuel, we have also invested heavily in independent economic modelling around the availability, aggregation and logistics of available waste streams in Queensland,” he said.
“We intend to establish regional hubs where the waste is generated, to produce our renewable crude. The crude will then be transported from across Queensland to the Gladstone Renewable Fuel Refinery.
“So new regional industries creating new jobs and new market opportunities. The numbers add up. It’s a viable and scalable business proposition.”