Alternative Fuels Australia

Archive for the ‘Biofuels’ Category

Palm oil crisis hits thanks to…ethanol?

Posted by Car Geek on January 11, 2008

Maybe I’m off base with this one, but if any article were to highlight the need for understanding the subject matter, it’s this one: The Australian’s Leo Lewis attributes a crisis in Malaysian palm oil supplies to ethanol production in his headline. It’s a perfectly valid point, except for the small fact that palm oil is used to produce much of the world’s biodiesel, not ethanol.

It might be nitpicking, but if the people who report the news don’t understand the difference, then what chance do the people who read it have?

Posted in Biofuels | Leave a Comment »

Coalition announces $24 million in biofuels support

Posted by Car Geek on November 13, 2007

Deputy PM Mark Vaile. Image from Deputy Prime Minister Mark Vaile today announced that a re-elected coalition government would put forward $24 million in funding towards expanding the use of biofuels, at the coalition’s official campaign launch in Brisbane.

The new package would involve $8 million in assistance for up to 400 additional petrol stations around Australia to help refit them for use with E10 petrol, to increase the total number of petrol stations selling the fuel to approximately 1200. $6 million would also be earmarked for a trial of B20 biodiesel blended diesel fuel to determine if it meets heavy vehicle standards, and $10 million would be spent on the promotion and further research into biofuels, including second-generation production methods such as cellulosic ethanol and algae-derived biodiesel.

The Australian federal government currently has a target of 350 ML of biofuels by 2010, a target current production is expected to exceed in the next year or two. Vaile’s rural-focused Nationals party in particular has been a strong supporter of biofuels in Australia, as they have been largely beneficial to farmers.

(Source: The Age)

Posted in Biodiesel, Biofuels, Ethanol | Leave a Comment »

New Zealand conflicted on electric cars, seeks biofuels and hydrogen vehicles

Posted by Car Geek on October 13, 2007

New Zealand is well on its way to becoming one of the most environmentally friendly nations on the planet, especially if its government has its way. The small nation has a plan to half its transport emissions by 2040 by using biofuels, hybrids and electric vehicles, according to an energy strategy released by Prime Minister Helen Clark. The government hopes that battery-electric vehicles will make up 60 per cent of the market share by 2040, and that hydrogen-powered vehicles make up 25 per cent by 2050. The move is aided by New Zealand’s already largely clean electricity, 65 per cent of which is produced by renewable means (a figure they want to increase to 90 per cent by 2025).

However, the media and private companies aren’t quite as sold on electric cars as the government just yet. EVs have copped considerable criticism from New Zealand’s Dog and Lemon Guide, an influential car magazine. Author Clive Matthew-Wilson attacked the cars for being high cost, range-limited and in constant need of recharging. The author also said that the light-weight materials used for EVs such as carbon fibre, also used in a number of conventional vehicle components such as spoilers, were expensive to make and “incredibly toxic”. The comments (however questionable they may be) have prompted Meridian Energy, a power company that was planning to import a small number of electric cars for a trial, to review the plan, though it currently has no intentions to scrap the trial entirely.

NZ Energy Minister, David Parker, has rejected the claims of Dog & Lemon, saying that much of the technology going into electric vehicles is already used in conventional cars and that the energy used to power them would be largely renewable.

“The Prime Minister recently announced a target of 90 per cent renewable energy in the electricity sector by 2025, so we are set to see amounts of renewable electricity available increasing over time,” he said.

“New Zealand is fortunate to have so much renewable energy available at economic prices; the uptake of technologies such as electric cars will see an increasingly sustainable transport fleet.”

(Sources: NZ Herald, The Age)

Posted in Biofuels, Electric vehicles, Hydrogen, Neighbouring endeavours | 3 Comments »

Australian scientist heads up solar biofuels consortium

Posted by Car Geek on October 9, 2007

Algae bioreactors. Image from the Solar Bio-Fuels Consortium. Algae could potentially be used to create more than just biodiesel, if one Australian researcher has his way. Associate Professor Ben Hankamer, from the Institute for Molecular Bioscience at the University of Queensland, is leading an international consortium which is focused on generating fuels such as methane, biodiesel and hydrogen from algae and sunlight.

The Solar Bio-Fuels Consortium is a collaborative research effort by academics from the University of Queensland, as well as numerous universities in Germany and Imperial College in London, England, with the aim of developing methods of renewable biofuel production that do not suffer from the drawbacks of traditional crops such as corn. The group conducts “bio-discovery, structural biology, molecular biology, microbiology, genomics, transcriptomics, proteomics, metabonomics, culture optimization and bioreactor scale-up within a coordinated research program”, according to their website.

Algae naturally capture sunlight and use its energy to split water (H2O) into hydrogen and oxygen, however this process is not efficient enough to make it commercially viable.

The Consortium uses this natural reaction, but is developing ways of enhancing its efficiency to a level where the process will be economically viable. This will be done with the help of a $286 000 Australian Research Council grant received last week.

“We have conducted detailed feasibility studies that show that, once key technical milestones are overcome, this technology could achieve economic viability, which will increase further with the introduction of carbon trading schemes and the predicted rise in the oil price,” Associate Professor Hankamer said.

“We have focused on micro-algae as a source of hydrogen because they have several advantages over traditional bio-fuel crops.”

The concept may also prove beneficial for Australia as a desalinising method to provide clean water to drought-stricken parts of the country. Algae that can feed on salt water produces hydrogen and oxygen, which can then be combusted and condensed to clean water without the salt content, combining clean water production with carbon-neutral electricity generation.

The technology could also be used in conjunction with existing coal-fired power plants to absorb much of the carbon dioxide emitted, feeding the algae and effectively “reusing” the greenhouse gas. The algae can then be used to generate hydrogen with no carbon emissions, as well as other biofuels. This process is a substantial improvement from current hydrogen generation methods, which use methane as a feedstock and generate carbon dioxide.

(Source: UQ News)

Posted in Biofuels, Carbon sequestration, Hydrogen | 2 Comments »

Air NZ, Boeing to partner on aviation biofuels

Posted by Car Geek on September 29, 2007

CO2 emissions from various aviation sources. Image courtesy Green Car Congress. It might not strictly be Australian, but our trans-Tasman neighbours deserve some credit for this: Boeing, Air New Zealand and Rolls-Royce have announced a partnership to demonstrate the ability of biofuels to be used in passenger aircraft next year.

Exact details are somewhat limited at the moment and are expected to come out closer to the date, but the demonstration flight is scheduled for the second half of 2008 using one of Air New Zealand’s Boeing 747-400 aircraft, outfitted with Rolls-Royce gas turbine engines. One of the engines will be specially modified to take the biofuel, with the other three running on standard jet fuel.

“Bio-jet” fuels, as Boeing is referring to them, are likely to come from second-generation feedstocks such as cellulosic ethanol or algae biodiesel, though the exact fuel to be used has not been specified. The graph above, from Green Car Congress, shows the relative carbon dioxide emissions when compared to the currently used Jet-A fuel, which is derived from crude oil. Bio-jet fuel is expected to emit only 40% of the CO2 emissions of standard jet fuel, though the graph includes only exhaust emissions, and does not include upstream absorptions and emissions.

Air NZ CEO Rob Fyfe said that the test marked a “significant step” in making his airline as environmentally friendly as possible:

“Simply, we are taking the first step on what promises to be a defining and inspiring journey,” he said.

“It’s hard to believe that as little as a year ago, biofuel seemed like pie in the sky and was being written off by many commentators in terms of aviation application.

“But it is now becoming a genuine possibility and the technology is moving so fast that it may become commercially viable in a much shorter time frame than we previously thought.”

(Sources: The Australian, Green Car Congress)

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Kicking it up a notch: biofuel groups join forces

Posted by Car Geek on September 27, 2007

Bob Gordon, of the Australian Renewable Fuels Association. Image from Biofuels Australasia.With the Australian Ethanol and Biodiesel conference happening this week in Brisbane, biofuel user groups Biodiesel Association of Australia and Renewable Fuels Australia are joining together to form the Biofuels Association of Australia (BAA Inc).

The move to merge the two prominent biofuel lobbies was prompted by a perceived need to more heavily promote the use of renewable fuels in Australia and push for greater government support in light of the upcoming federal election.

“This is a bold step as it challenges both ethanol and biodiesel to work for the common good of biofuels, as well as those vested interest factors that distinguish ethanol and biodiesel as cleaner burning renewable fuels,” said Bob Gordon, executive director the Australian Renewable Fuels Association. “Australia’s role in [the global biofuel market] has yet to be determined, and every effort has to be made of the opportunity of the federal election to effectively get this message across to both the Coalition Government and the Kevin Rudd Labor Party alternative.”

(Sources: North Queensland Register, Biofuels Australasia)

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Australia losing chance to develop biofuels

Posted by Car Geek on September 25, 2007

A lack of support from state and federal governments is putting Australia at risk of falling well behind the rest of the world in biofuel research and production, according to one researcher.

Dr Stephen Clarke, a chemistry lecturer at Flinders University who is currently attempting to set up a national biofuels research facility in South Australia, says that research is accelerating quickly in the United States thanks to strong influence from state and federal governments.

“There are 148 major biodiesel plants operating in the U.S. and by 2012, 50 per cent of all new vehicles produced in the US will run on biofuel – E85 and biodiesel – with 20 per cent of expensive, imported petroleum fuels being replaced with biofuels grown and manufactured in the USA,” Dr Clarke said.

Currently Australia has a goal of 350 ML of biofuels being produced by 2010, which amounts to just one per cent of total fuel consumption. Dr Clarke hopes that his research, which involves the conversion of animal fat to biodiesel, has received funding from private institutes such as Meat and Livestock Australia but has not yet received a positive response from his proposals to government.

Biodiesel from animal fat, also known as tallow, is recognised by reports on the Australian Greenhouse Office’s website as one of the least polluting biofuels due to much lower upstream emissions, requiring relatively few fossil fuels in its production when compared to plant-based biofuels.

(Source: Adelaide Now)

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Biofuel industry to double in 2008

Posted by Car Geek on September 6, 2007

B20 pump, photo by Nathan Cahill.The future of the Australian biofuel industry is looking brighter, with the total production level expected to double to 600 megalitres in 2008, well in excess of the Federal government’s 2010 target of 350 ML.

APAC Biofuels, an industry consultant, released the predictions this week to the Advanced Global Biofuel Summit in Bangkok, also states that production in Australia could exceed 1000 ML by 2010. 

Other key points of the report:

  • Producers may have trouble competing “in the lower value energy market with higher value food commodities”
  • Drought, consumer acceptance and quality are limiting a higher production of biofuels
  • Tallow and waste oil are likely to play a much larger role in Australian biodiesel
  • Falling feedstock prices are the main driver for increased production of both ethanol and biodiesel.

(Sources: ABC News, The Australian)

Posted in Biodiesel, Biofuels, Ethanol | Leave a Comment »

WA minister supports E85

Posted by Car Geek on July 31, 2007

Photo by The West AustralianWestern Australia is setting itself up to rival Queensland as Australia’s ethanol state, if recent events are anything to go by. The submission by industry to WA’s biofuels taskforce has recommended the introduction of an E85 fuel standard, which would combine 85 per cent ethanol with 15 per cent unleaded fuel. Currently the ethanol content of fuel is capped at 10 per cent by federal regulation.

WA state minister for agriculture, Kim Chance (pictured), is supportive of the biofuels industry in Western Australia.

“There is a great potential in WA for alternative fuels such as biodiesel and ethanol to provide significant benefits in both environmental and economic terms,” he said.

“I believe one of the most important benefits a biofuels industry in WA will provide is the boost to rural economies and an increase in employment opportunities.”

Mr Chance recently had the opportunity to drive a Saab 9-5 BioPower, currently the only flex-fuel vehicle available in Australia. He is also likely to support a mandate for minimum biofuel content in all WA fuel, likely a 5 per cent ethanol blend.

“That will be the key issue that Government will be considering, I can feel reasonably confident the Government will be supporting the other recommendations, but the issue of target and mandate around 2010 and 2011 will engender some lively discussion,” he said recently.

E5 is suitable for almost all vehicles, while E85 can only be used in vehicles that have properly modified fuel systems.

(Sources: Farm Weekly, ABC online, The West Australian)

Posted in alternative fuel, Biofuels, Ethanol, Legislation | 1 Comment »

Saab goes carbon neutral

Posted by Car Geek on July 9, 2007

Saab BioPower 9-5 at Leipzig, from

In what is likely an Australian first, Saab has shifted their entire range to be carbon neutral. In essence, any Saab purchased before September 30, 2007 will be carbon offset for the expected use in the first year. This applies to every new vehicle in the range. In addition, Saab is releasing a BioPower 9-5 with a 2.3L turbocharged engine that can run on unleaded, E85 or any combination of the two, with the vehicle’s engine “adjusting accordingly”. According to Saab this results in a significant increase in available power when using E85, although there is no word about its fuel consumption. Saab is releasing this model in anticipation of E85 becoming available in Australia in the near future; given the resistance from government and public interest groups to use anything more than E10, the true usefulness of Saab’s BioPower 9-5 may not be apparent for a while yet.


Posted in Biofuels, Carbon offset, Ethanol | 2 Comments »