$5.2m ARENA funding for Curtin’s Renergi to design and construct a pilot biofuel plant


Researchers from Curtin University’s Fuels and Energy Technology Institute have developed a new technology that converts biomass, such as mallee crops, into biofuels and biochar via biomass conversion (pyrolysis) and bio refinement.

Image credit: Curtin University Facebook page
Image credit: Curtin University Facebook page

This new biofuel technology has great potential to boost the production of advanced biofuels to meet Australia’s needs for renewable liquid fuels and carbon emission reduction.

That is why, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) will provide $5.2 million funding for Renergi – Curtin University’s spin-off company – to design and construct an innovative pilot scale biofuel production facility in Perth.

“Renergi was created out of Curtin University to commercialise some of its bioenergy ideas. Renergi is aiming to scale up existing technology successfully developed with ARENA funding support. These projects demonstrate how ARENA’s unique role supports renewable energy technologies across the innovation chain, advancing them from the laboratory to the field,” said ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht in a media release.

“Renergi’s approach would allow green bio-crude to be produced by conversion units at the source of feedstock and refined into high quality transport biofuels at a large central refinery.”

The technology could potentially reduce the cost of bioenergy thanks to its novel approaches to conversion and refining processes.

“Renergi’s solution aims to streamline this step by incorporating steel grinding balls into a rotating biomass conversation unit, allowing simultaneous break-down and gasification. The plant will operate at low temperatures and close to atmospheric pressure increasing safety and reducing energy requirements and capital costs,” he said.

“ARENA is working with Renergi to develop a rigorous strategy aimed at increasing scale and ultimately making the technology commercially competitive.”

Renergi is currently focused on developing energy-efficient biomass gasification for distributed power generation. The ARENA funding will allow the company to diversify into the production of liquid fuels.

“Commercially competitive technologies that convert biomass into advanced biofuels and biochar could help to significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions, improve energy security and contribute to regional development. The information obtained during the project will be used in the future design and operation of advanced biofuel production systems which use the new technology,” said lead researcher, John Curtin Distinguished Professor Chun-Zhu-Li from Curtin’s Fuels and Energy Technology Institute.

With the new technology, Professor Li added, mallee planting could be turned into an economically feasible means to fight dryland salinity, which is one of the greatest threats for Australian agriculture and regional areas.

The $12.9 million project is set to be completed in October 2017.