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From little things big things grow

R&D Now

A biomass gasification demonstration plant based on Curtin’s award-winning proprietary gasification technology will be built in Western Australia, with financial support from the federal government.

The development is an important milestone for John Curtin Distinguished Professor Chun-Zhu Li, who has been working to realise renewable energy from mallee and other biomass.

“Planting mallee is considered an important means to fighting dryland salinity. However, continued planting is feasible only if a cost-effective technology is developed to convert mallee into useful products,” Li says.

“The Fuels and Energy Technology Institute (FETI) has responded to this, and focused on developing innovative bioenergy/biofuel technologies. One such technology gasifies mallee biomass to produce a gaseous fuel for electricity generation.”

Mallee is a fast-growing tree that coppices well; that is, after harvesting it produces strong new growth from the root crown – which makes it an ideal species to use as a sustainable biomass resource.

The biomass gasification reactor developed at FETI is designed for use in remote areas that are far from the electricity grid but close to biomass resources such as mallee and wheat straw.

“The technology has many unique features that will help to reduce the capital and operating costs of generating green base-load electricity, using distributed biomass resources, in remote areas, ” Li says.

“These include a compact design of gasifier, integrated hot gas cleaning with gasification, and rapid gasification at atmospheric pressure and relatively low temperature.”

The federal grant of $3.6 million, through the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, was awarded to Renergi Pty Ltd, a company established by Curtin to prepare for the technology’s commercialisation.

With the technology already proven in a laboratory pilot plant, the new funding enables Li’s team to scale up the technology and inform the design of a commercial-scale gasifier. Industry partners in the $6.7 million project include Cryofin Pty Ltd, Verve Energy and the Oil Mallee Association of Australia.

The commercial value of mallee biomass grown in WA’s wheatbelt is expected to encourage landowners to plant mallee.

“A major benefit is that planting mallee will become an economically feasible means to fight dryland salinity to ensure the sustainability of our agriculture and rural regions, ” Li says.

FETI was initially established in 2009 as the Curtin Centre for Advanced Energy Science and Engineering and expanded into the institute in 2012. It now has an interdisciplinary team of more than 50 researchers carrying out both basic and applied research in energy science and engineering, and developing advanced energy technologies that can be utilised by the commercial sector.

FETI also has numerous international research partnerships.