Virgin Australia, Dynamotive and partners developing renewable aviation biofuel from mallees trees using a fast pyrolysis pathway
6 July 2011
Australia-based airline Virgin Australia is partnering with Renewable Oil Corporation (ROC), Dynamotive Energy Systems Corporation and Future Farm Industries Co-operative Research Centre (FFI CRC) to develop a sustainable aviation biofuel that also has benefits for the Australian farming community and the environment.
The consortium plans to use fast pyrolysis and subsequent bio-oil upgrading technology developed by Dynamotive (earlier post) to process mallees, a type of eucalyptus that can be grown sustainably in many parts of Australia, into renewable jet fuel. The partnership brings together companies with special expertise in growing, harvesting and processing feedstock into aviation fuel to support the development of a full-scale commercial plant in Western Australia.
Dynamotive has invested in excess of $100 million and more than 10 years of work in developing its fast pyrolysis technology from bench-scale through to commercial-scale plants in Canada. The plants are equipped to make pyrolysis oil for fuels and also produce biochar, for soil improvement and carbon sequestration.
Pyrolysis oils present several challenges to overcome as they are typically high in water, solids and acids and do not meet the specifications of fossil fuels. Dynamotive R&D developed a process to upgrade pyrolysis oil that can potentially overcome these challenges and could provide an economically viable path to upgrade bio-oils to mobile fuels. Dynamotive and IFP entered into an initial Memorandum in 2010 to explore the process potential. (Earlier post.)
The process takes the bio-oil produced by the pyrolysis of lignocellulosic biomass, and then hydro-reforms it to a Stage 1 gas-oil equivalent liquid fuel that can either be directly utilized in blends with hydrocarbon fuels for industrial stationary power and heating applications or be further upgraded to transportation grade liquid hydrocarbon fuels in a Stage 2 hydrotreating process.
Renewable Oil Corporation (ROC), which identified the mallee tree as a promising biofuel feedstock, is Dynamotive’s Australian partner and develops biofuel projects in Australia. In June, Dynamotive increased its shareholding in ROC to approximately 30%. The increased shareholding came with progress with the upgrading of Dynamotive’s pyrolysis oil to mobile fuels for a range of transport applications (jet, diesel, gasoline).
Leading the commercialization of mallees is the Future Farm Industries Co-operative Research Centre (FFI CRC), a national R&D joint venture with experts in breeding, growing and harvesting these trees.
Our research shows that mallees can be planted in balance with profitable crop and livestock production in Australia’s wheatbelt region. As well as becoming a source of biomass for renewable energy they offer protection from wind erosion, help to avoid dryland salinity and provide improved livestock shelter. They even provide habitat for native birds and mammals.—CRC CEO Kevin Goss
Already more than 1,000 farmers have planted mallees in belts on their farms, mainly in Western Australia. Later this year the FFI CRC partnership will bring the prototype, world’s first hardwood biomass harvester to Western Australia for wide-scale demonstrations.
The consortium is currently finalizing plans for a demonstration unit that will make bio-fuels for testing, certification and public trials. The demonstration unit is intended to be operational in 2012, followed by the construction of a commercial-scale plant, which could be operational as early as 2014.
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