The opening of an algae pilot plant in Karratha, Western Australia, brings Australia one step closer to creating commercial quantities of clean biofuel for the future.
The $3.3million project led by Professor Michael Borowitzka of Murdoch University and Dr David Lewis and Associate Professor Peter Ashman of the University of Adelaide, leads world algae biofuel research after more than two years of consistent results for both universities.
Prof Borowitzka said the productivity they have achieved from algae in saline ponds in Perth and Adelaide was the best in the world.
“We have achieved production rates of 50 tonnes per hectare per year, about half of which is converted to oil. These high production rates are expected to increase at the new pilot plant due to better climatic conditions in Karratha,” Prof Borowitzka said.
The project, which received $1.89 million funding from the Australia Government as part of the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate, is the only one in Australia working on all steps in the process of microalgal biofuels production.
“The integration of microalgae culture, harvesting of algae and the extraction of oil suitable for biofuels production is critical to achieve a commercially and environmentally sustainable outcome,” he said.
Professor Borowitzka said that although producing biofuels from algae has been technically feasible for some time, the high cost of production has previously stopped it becoming a reality.
“We have already dropped the cost from $12 a litre down to $3 a litre in the past year, but our aim is to get it down to less than $1 a litre,” he said.
“The pilot plant in Karratha will allow us to further refine the production process and demonstrate the commercial feasibility under realistic conditions.”
“We will test lipid productivity of the elite saline microalgae strains developed by Murdoch and the new harvesting and lipids extraction methods developed at the University of Adelaide, on a large scale.”
The project is also investigating the anticipated reduction in carbon emissions of algae produced fuel, and possible further energy generation from algae waste.