24 November 2014

Australia-India research aims for cheaper fuels and chemicals from agricultural waste

Researcher developed tools that will be sufficiently flexible to be used for minimising supply chain costs in Australia, India and elsewhere

Centre for Tropical Crops and Biocommodities (CTCB) and the Institute of Chemical Technology (ICT), Mumbai, are leading a multi-million dollar research project to reduce the costs of producing bio oils and chemicals from agricultural waste, minimise investment risks and encourage diversification in farming.

Associate Professor Ian O’Hara, Professor William Doherty and Dr Phil Hobson from CTCB and Professor Arvind Lali from ICT gave a presentation on the project to Prime Minister of the Republic of India Mr Narendra Modi, visiting QUT prior to the G20 Leaders’ Summit.

Professor Doherty said as well as making the production of renewable fuels more economically viable, the research aimed to extract chemicals to replace conventional oil-derived compounds used in paints, adhesives, fire retardants and plastics for a range of applications including vehicle body parts and building materials.

“The agricultural waste we are using which cannot be used as food or fodder is being sourced from three main crops that are common in Australia and India – sugar cane bagasse, forest residues left over from logging and rice straw,” Professor Doherty said.

“Working with eight other research partners, including the Institute of Chemical Technology in Mumbai, the project is funded by the Australian and Indian Governments and has major implications for the production of bio-based energy and renewable chemicals.

“Up to 30 per cent of the cost of producing bio oils and other renewable fuels is in the collection, transport and storage of biomass (agricultural waste) prior to processing. We are currently developing tools that enable us to reduce the cost of delivering biomass.

“These tools will be sufficiently flexible to be used for minimising supply chain costs in Australia, India and elsewhere.

“Our primary aim is to establish biomass as an economically and environmentally sustainable alternative energy source and reduce the risk barriers for companies investing in advanced manufacturing in Australia and India.

“This will significantly increase the viability of farming and rural communities by encouraging diversification associated with the production of major crops common to both the Australian and Indian agricultural sectors.

“Our hybrid biorefinery concept brings together both thermochemical and biochemical conversion processes and technologies developed by participating parties to maximise carbon conversion efficiency and end product value.”

Professor Doherty said the team was now set to take the process from the laboratory to the pilot stage at the biocommodity plants in Queensland, WA and India.

“Many of the processes we are using have been developed by the research partners and shown to work at the laboratory scale. This project is focused on significantly enhancing the prospects for commercial implementation by the further development and demonstration of these processes at pilot plant scale,” he said.

The Australia-India Strategic Research Fund 2013-2016 project partners are:

  • Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane;
  • University of Western Australia, Perth;
  • Curtin University, Perth;
  • New South Wales Department of Primary Industries
  • Institute of Chemical Technology, Mumbai;
  • CSIR- National Institute of Interdisciplinary Sciences and Technology, Thiruvananthapuram;
  • International Centre for Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology (ICGEB), New Delhi;
  • The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), New Delhi; and
  • R&D Centre, Indian Oil Corporation, Faridabad

Source: Queensland University of Technology, press release, 2014-11-15.

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