Advancing second-generation ethanol production
Ethanol Technologies Limited (Ethtec) chairman, Mr Robert Carey, has welcomed the announcement by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) of $11.9 million in funding for Ethtec to complete the development and demonstration of its advanced biofuel production technology.
“The announcement by ARENA is a result of many years of dedicated work by the Ethtec technical team and assists our progress to the commercialisation of the technology,” Mr Carey said.
On behalf of the Australian Government, ARENA announced it had awarded the recoupable grant for the $48 million project which will include a $30 million world-leading pilot plant in the Hunter Valley.
Ethtec is working to overcome the barriers to widespread use of ethanol as fuel. In a scalable pilot plant project, Ethtec is developing for commercialisation new technology to produce ethanol and other high-value fermentation products from lignocellulosic materials such as crop stubbles, cotton gin trash, timber residues and sugar cane bagasse. The technology thus avoids the “fuel versus food” tension associated with the production of ethanol from corn or wheat starch.
Dr Russell Reeves, Ethtec’s chief scientist and managing director, explained: “Internationally it is recognised that an ethanol fuel industry based on production from lignocellulosic materials results in substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from the transport and industrial sectors while simultaneously assisting to provide solutions to rural unemployment and land degradation through enhancing the economics of crop and forest production.
The project aims to demonstrate that value enhancement of existing biomass resources, reafforestation and synergistic treatment of land degradation are important wider benefits associated with ethanol production from lignocellulosic materials”.
“Ethtec is highlighting the value-adding opportunities for owners of lignocellulosic materials, the development opportunities for regional and rural communities, the land remediation opportunities for mine operators and the cost-competitiveness of the ethanol produced as key elements of the technology commercialisation programme”, Dr Reeves said.
Dr John Hewson, former leader of the Federal Liberal Party and renewable energy advocate said: “I have been involved with this project for several years in an advisory role and this announcement is very exciting news. There has been a lot of publicity around electricity security lately but what many people don’t realise is that oil is responsible for around 40% of Australia’s energy use, and this announcement makes it clear that ARENA is committed to funding the development of renewable transportation fuels to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.”
The Ethtec pilot plant project is being undertaken in four phases, with each phase incorporating new technology and addressing the associated technical risks. Ethtec has invested over $18.6 million in the project to date.
The ARENA funding of $11.9 million is being matched by Jiangsu Jintongling Fluid Machinery Technology Company Limited (JTL). Dr Reeves explained: “JTL’s financial contribution will not only enable completion of the pilot plant but their overall involvement in the project will greatly assist in commercialising the Ethtec process both within Australia and internationally”.
“Ethtec wishes to thank Mr Ning Ding of Billion Equity for coordinating the investment by JTL in the Ethtec project”, Dr Reeves said.
Ethtec has partnered with Apace Research Limited, the University of Newcastle’s Institute for Energy and Resources and School of Environmental and Life Sciences as well as with Muswellbrook Shire Council to complete the project. Additional funds and in-kind support from the project partners make up the funding for the new $30 million Hunter Pilot Biorefinery.
“Muswellbrook Shire Council’s financial and in-kind contributions enable the facility to be established in a region where the synergistic production linkages and compounded benefits from colocation of the energy, mining, agribusiness, forestry and land care sectors can be demonstrated”, said Dr Reeves.
“The ARENA funding is pivotal to the total investment in the project by the private and public sectors. Ethtec wishes to thank ARENA for its invaluable assistance in achieving this outcome,” Dr Reeves said.
The Ethtec pilot plant will be the centrepiece of the Hunter Pilot Biorefinery located at Muswellbrook in the Upper Hunter Valley of New South Wales.
Mr Andrew Reeves, Ethtec’s senior research engineer, explained: “In our pilot plant we convert lignocellulosic biomass feedstocks to sugars in solution, which are then fermented to ethanol and other renewable products. This pre-commercial facility can process around two dry tonnes of feedstock per day and is used to generate the engineering data required to construct commercial-scale plants.”
“The pilot plant project is about developing the engineering data for the process, to ensure that it is commercially viable. We know you can take lignocellulosic waste streams, convert them to sugars and then convert those sugars into biofuels or green chemicals, but it’s got to be commercially competitive with products derived from crude oil,” Mr Reeves said.
Dr Tony Banks, Ethtec’s senior research chemist, also explained: “There are other technologies out there that are attempting to produce commercially viable second-generation ethanol. However, all of them are specific for a certain feedstock such as corn stover, wheat straw or sugar cane bagasse. One of the unique aspects of our technology is that it can be implemented across multiple sectors because it can process any lignocellulosic feedstock, including mixed feedstocks. For this industry to be commercially viable, the technology must be able to deal with real world feedstocks.”
Dr Geoff Doherty, Ethtec’s senior research biotechnologist, added: “To provide an economic buffer during periods of low oil prices, Ethtec is engineering flexibility into the process by enabling plant operators to choose to produce valuable co-products with ethanol”.