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Hunter Valley biofuel facility to advance ethanol production

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) has recently announced AU$11.9 million in funding for Australian biofuel company Ethanol Technologies Ltd (Ethtec) to complete the development and demonstration of its groundbreaking advanced biofuel technology. As part of an AU$48 million project, Ethtec aims to construct an AU$30 million purpose-built pilot-scale facility based in the Hunter Valley in New South Wales (NSW), Australia.

ARENA will help fund the completion of Ethtec’s cellulosic ethanol pilot demo plant in NSW (photo courtesy ARENA).

On behalf of the Australian Government, ARENA’s funding will go towards the completion of the pilot demonstration plant which will produce ethanol from a range of non-food waste plant matter left over from crop harvesting and forestry.

According to a statement, Ethtec has developed an “innovative and cost-effective approach” to the production of bioethanol from a range of waste or low-value products including sugarcane bagasse, forestry residues and cotton gin trash known as lignocellulosic biomass.

Demand for ethanol in Australia is expected to increase by approximately 500 million litres each year over the period to 2030, with mandates in Queensland and New South Wales. All of Australia’s ethanol is currently first-generation ethanol, produced from wheat and sugarcane, while second-generation ethanol is derived from inedible plant waste.

Important project phase

According to ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht, the next phases of the project were important in making advanced biofuels a viable option to support emission reduction for the transport sector. With global demand for biofuels expected to triple by 2050 and most of the growth to be met by ethanol “technological breakthroughs that make producing ethanol from waste more efficient is game-changing”.

Advanced biofuels provide an exciting opportunity for Australia to open up export avenues and also help reduce emissions from the transport sector. Ethtec’s facility in the Hunter Valley will demonstrate a new and innovative process for the production of bioethanol, gaining pivotal research and development experience that will lead to the commercialisation of the process and position Australia as a leader in advanced biofuels, Frischknecht said.

Ethtec’s Chief Scientist Dr Russell Reeves said ARENA’s support was pivotal to the project, which has also secured AU$11.9 million in matching funding from leading industry partner Jiangsu Jintongling Fluid Machinery Technology Co Ltd.

The world-leading facility will partner with researchers from the Newcastle Institute for Energy and Resources at the University of Newcastle and is also receiving support from Muswellbrook Shire Council.

An ethanol fuel industry based on lignocellulosic biomass can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the transport and industrial sectors, create opportunities for regional and rural communities, make crop and forest production more economical and assist in land rehabilitation. With the support of the Australian Government, we are hoping to engineer a more cost-competitive process for producing ethanol that will make use of existing biomass materials and create a world-leading facility for advanced biofuels, Dr Reeves said.

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