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Boost for biofuels

Photo by Holger Link on Unsplash

The Queensland Waste to Biofutures (W2B) Fund is backing low carbon fuel producer Gevo to accelerate the Australian state’s biofuel ambitions. W2B funding is used to advance biorefinery projects that generate bioenergy, biofuel and high-value bioproducts using waste or biomass.

Queensland is rich in renewable biomass resources and has expressed the desire to invest in the future of biofuels.

“We are thrilled to be awarded funding from W2B, which will allow us to further our assessment of a contemplated second generation (2G) feedstock to biofuel project in Queensland. This opportunity opens the door for the development of a project that not only supplies low carbon gasoline to Queensland, but also the possibility to supply commercial quantities of 2G sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) to the Brisbane Airport, expanding upon our demonstrations of SAF supply to commercial airlines like those conducted with Virgin Australia over the last several months,” said Patrick Gruber, Chief Executive Officer of Gevo. 

Gevo will now explore the best ‘2G biomass to carbohydrate conversion process’ to use along with its established biofuel process.

“Gevo has recognised that Queensland is the place to be when it comes to the future of biofuels and we look forward to an ongoing partnership which has the potential to bring even more business to Queensland, as demand for biofuels grows,” said Cameron Dick, Minister for State Development. “In addition to offering environmental benefits by reducing the carbon footprint of plane travel, this project will also help position Queensland as a world-leading location for investment in the manufacture and distribution of this fuel in the global bioproducts and services market. Gevo’s participation in the successful sustainable aviation fuel trial at the Brisbane Airport led to Queensland being considered as the location for the company’s first biorefinery outside of the United States.

Cameron added: “Having the ability to turn our agriculture waste into sustainable fuel means more jobs in agriculture and biofutures across our regions.”

Meanwhile, a new study by the University of Göttingen looking at the climate-friendly credentials of making biodiesel from palm oil has investigated whether it cuts greenhouse gas emissions. Feedstocks first used in the production of biofuels were hugely controversial, as too often it resulted in the loss of vital food crops. At the beginning of the noughties biofuel production was dramatically pushing up food prices. The then U.N. Special Rapporteur on food policy, Jean Ziegler, labelled the use of crops for biofuels ‘a crime against humanity’.

Innovations from the likes of Gevo and Neste focus more on converting waste into biofuel. But what about the continued use of vegetable oil-based biofuels like palm oil?

“Mature oil palms capture high rates of CO2, but there are serious consequences for the environment from clearing forest. In fact, carbon emissions caused by cutting down forest to plant oil palms are only partially offset by the future carbon capture,” explained lead author Ana Meijide from the Agronomy Group at the University of Göttingen.

Palm-oil biodiesel that meets greenhouse gas emission targets set by the European Union Renewable Energy Directive, that it must realise a 60% reduction over its entire life-cycle compared to fossil fuels, is only achieved from second rotation plantations. First-rotation palm-oil biodiesel creates 98% more emissions than fossil fuels. To find the optimum strategies for sustainable production researchers modelled various scenarios.

“Longer rotation cycles, such as extending the plantation cycle to 30 or even 40 years compared to the conventional 25 years, or earlier yielding varieties have a substantial positive effect on greenhouse gas emissions – both scenarios are doable and relatively easy to implement,” added Dr Ana Meijide. “This research highlights how important it is that farming practices and government policies prevent further losses of forest and promote longer rotation cycles.”

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Iain Robertson
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