Sawmill scraps and sawdust could soon be turned into renewable diesel and bitumen as a result of a $1.2 million feasibility study, funded by the Federal Government and Boral Limited.
The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) has agreed to grant Boral with $500,000 towards the study, with Boral providing the remainder.
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The study will trial a mechanical catalytic conversion technology, developed by Spanish-based Global Ecofuel Solutions SL, along with initial design works for the full-scale plant, exploration of the regulatory challenges and development of the business case.
Boral will explore the technical and financial viability of establishing a biorefinery using this technology near its Herons Creek hardwood sawmill, near Port Macquarie, NSW.
If successful, the proposed biorefinery would cost around $50 million and could convert up to 50,000 tonnes of waste sawmill residue produces each year into transport grade diesel and renewable bitumen.
Sawmill residue, which includes sawdust, remnant woodchips, shavings and offcuts, is currently used for lower value uses such as landscaping and boiler fuel.
Boral consumes a large amount of diesel and bitumen, using around 100 million litres of diesel a year to operate its business in Australia. The company estimates the volume of timber residues should create around 16 million litres of diesel and 8000 tonnes of bitumen.
Boral Building Products Executive General Manager Wayne Manners said if the study was successful, the diesel and bitumen produced at the potential new biorefinery could eventually account for up to 15 per cent of Boral’s annual needs.
“The application of this technology has the potential to transform the way we use low value hardwood sawmill residues into a resource that could be highly valuable, not just to Boral, but to the industry more generally,” he said.
ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht said the project further shows that big businesses are increasingly moving towards renewable energy solutions.
“If this ground-breaking technology is successful, we hope to see a transition to similar biorefineries by other companies which have a waste stream in forestry or agriculture,” Mr Frischknecht said.
“The transport sector is a significant user of energy in Australia, with liquid fuels a key long-term energy source for heavy-vehicle road and air transport since they cannot readily be electrified.
“Bioenergy comprises a growing proportion of Australia’s energy mix, and this new technology could see residue from the production process be used to reduce Boral’s reliance on diesel and bitumen derived from fossil fuels,” he said.