Biomass, Biofuels, and Bioderived chemicals
Biomass for industrial biotechnology processes is preferably derived from the non-food part of crops, plants, trees and algae as well as other forms of organic waste. Biomass accumulates carbon from carbon dioxide in the atmosphere through photosynthesis that can be readily converted into a range of products such as liquid biofuels and biochemicals. Queensland holds great potential in this regard, as biomass produced in tropical and sub-tropical climates is five times more productive, on average, than biomass grown in temperate regions such as Europe or North America. Biofuels – the fuels that are derived from biomass materials such as waste plant and animal matter – can be used to replace petrochemical-derived products like gasoline, jet and diesel fuels. Biofuels are of particular importance because of their potential to provide a sustainable, renewable and environmentally friendly alternative to current fuels.
With the International Civil Aviation Organisation declaring that by 2020, the aviation industry aims to achieve carbon neutral growth, maintaining that the development of commercially viable and sustainable biofuels is essential, due to the fact they are the only alternative to petroleum-based fuels that meet the necessary strict environmental, technical, safety and economic requirements. In addition to this, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) stated in their 2011 report Flightpath to Sustainable Aviation that biofuels are the only sustainable alternative for jet fuels.
Queensland has taken heed of this information and is driving towards biofuel development and a host of international research collaborations have been undertaken. For example The University of Queensland has collaborated with the U.S. Department of Defence to supply the U.S. Navy with biofuels and, in the process, delivering real benefits to Queensland.
Other global organisations that have collaborated on Queensland bio-industrial projects include Boeing, Dow, Dupont, LanzaTech, Neste Oil, Qantas, Siemens, Syngenta, Virgin Australia, Wilmar and SkyNRG.
Queensland is already positioned to become the ‘clean energy capital’ of Australia because of the State’s natural resources (land and water) and agricultural expertise underpinning the production and manufacture of biofuels. In order to support the development and growth of a competitive biofuels and industrial biotechnology sector in Queensland, the government developed a Queensland Biofutures 10-Year Roadmap consultation paper. Incorporating feedback received on the consultation paper, a Biofutures Roadmap Action Plan is being prepared, which will respond to the challenges, and capitalise on the opportunities to grow the biofuels and industrial biotechnology sector in Queensland. In addition to this The Liquid Fuel Supply (Ethanol and Other Biofuels Mandate) Amendment Bill 2015 was passed by the Queensland Parliament on 1 December 2015, mandating 3% ethanol blending and 0.5% biodiesel blending from Jan. 1, 2017.
The State has been flagged by CSIRO as an area where biofuels could be readily produced due to an abundance of sugarcane, algae and even household waste. Queensland grows 94 per cent of Australia’s sugarcane crop, valued at AU$1 billion, and 61 per cent of the nation’s sorghum crop, worth AU$250 million. As the gateway to the ever-growing Asia-Pacific, and with capabilities in research, development, piloting and manufacturing renewable fuels and bio-based materials, Queensland is ideally positioned to become the leading exporter of these products to the region.
The Queensland University of Technology’s (QUT) Mackay Renewable Biocommodities Pilot Plant converts cellulosic biomass into bioethanol, biocrude and high-value biocommodities. The pilot plant houses equipment to produce fermentable sugars from a range of biomass sources as well as fermentation capacity up to 10,000 litres. The facility aims to link innovations in product and process development with the assessment of commercial viability to enhance the uptake of this technology in Australia.
Deloitte Access Economics and Corelli Bio-Industry Consulting co-authored a report that was launched in September 2014 investigating the potential economic impact of a future biorefinery industry in Queensland. The report modelled seven biorefinery projects located throughout Queensland making a range of products from aviation fuel to xylitol. The report found that a future biorefinery industry could strengthen and diversify the agriculture sector with 6,640 new jobs and a net present value up to 2035 of over AU$20 billion.