Muradel celebrated the launch of Australia’s first integrated demonstration plant to sustainably convert algae into green crude last week.
The $10.7 million demonstration plant located in Whyalla was officially opened on Friday by Minister for Regional Development Geoff Brock and Australian Renewable Energy Agency chief financial officer Ian Kay.
The plant will produce 30,000 litres of green crude a year using Muradel’s Green2Black™ technology for the continuous production of an environmentally sustainable fuel equivalent to fossil crude.
Mr Brock said the Muradel project was a natural fit for South Australia’s status as a national leader in the fields of aquaculture and renewable energy - two industries firmly based in the regions.
“The state government is focused on supporting industry diversification, investment and jobs growth,” Mr Brock said.
“Transformation of our economy will be built on the ability of our local businesses to adopt new ways of doing things.
“The government is working to help SA businesses identify new opportunities for innovation and to develop and expand their capabilities.
“Muradel is an excellent example of this approach.”
Mr Kay said the new plant presented an opportunity for transitioning from fossil fuels, such as oil, diesel and petrol used for transport, in Australia.
“Muradel has successfully taken this technology through to demonstration and is poised to offer it commercially with the ambition of making it available as a renewable alternative at the pump,” Mr Kay said.
Using microalgae produced on site as well as plant biomass and organic waste, Muradel’s energy-efficient subcritical water reactor converts this into a product that is functionally equivalent to fossil crude.
Standard oil refining then produces cost comparable, low net carbon, liquid transport fuels including petrol, diesel and aviation fuels.
The microalgae is sustainably grown in seawater ponds on marginal land that does not compete with food production and is a resilient strain that has proven productive all year in Australia’s sunny conditions.
The site is the first step towards a commercial plant for the renewable fuels company with the potential to produce 80 million litres of crude a year.
Plans to expand Muradel’s operations to a commercial scale are already underway.
Muradel chief executive officer and University of Adelaide Associate Professor David Lewis said it was always the renewable fuels company’s intentions to expand the operation.
“It’s always been our intention to build the commercial plant in the Whyalla region and we’ve chosen to stay on the same site,” Dr Lewis said.
Muradel is discussing its plans with Whyalla City Council to obtain land for the expansion and a design is being developed for an initial 100 hectare operation.
“We’re already negotiating access to land and we’re working with KBR, an engineering firm, who are designing that plant for us at the moment,” Dr Lewis said.
Dr Lewis said the overall expansion would be a staged-process, first going up to a 100 hectare operation and then eventually 1000 hectares.
“The expansion will be a step-wise expansion so we won’t build a 1000 hectare system overnight, it will take us several years,” Dr Lewis said.
Dr Lewis said the aim was to have 100 hectares developed by end of 2017, however more information and planning was required before then.
“We are definitely planning our fundraising and investor strategy to expand the plant from the end of 2016,” Dr Lewis said.
“We need to operate this plant for at least another 12 months to get the data to validate our business plan.”
Next month, Muradel will commence talks with downstream oil processers about refining and distributing its crude as transport fuel for shipping, aviation and road vehicles.
Dr Lewis said if the demonstration plant was successfully scaled to a commercial plant, it would produce 500,000 barrels of refinable green crude a year by 2019, providing enough petrol and diesel to fuel 30,000 vehicles for a year.
“This is world-leading technology which can be scaled up exponentially to help steer our fossil fuel- dependent economy to a more sustainable future,” Dr Lewis said.
“At a time when Australia imports most of its crude and refined transport fuels, Muradel’s advanced biofuel technology can improve Australia’s terms of trade, reduce life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions, and improve Australia’s fuel security.”
The planned 1000-hectare commercial plant would also create at least 100 new skilled and operational jobs in the Whyalla region.
“We estimate in excess of 100 staff for the commercial plant,” Dr Lewis said.
“At the moment we employ six on site here and I imagine that will go to eight early next year.
Dr Lewis said it would be expected staffing would at least triple the size of the current staff numbers for the first expansion,
At a commercial scale, Muradel expects production costs would be on par with the cost of producing fossil fuels for transport.
“Not only will the plant be a boon for the region’s economy, the algae ponds will act as carbon sinks that can capture greenhouse gas emissions produced by Whyalla’s heavy industry,” Dr Lewis said.
The demonstration plant was partially funded through a $4.4 million grant from Australian Renewable Energy Agency.
Additional in-kind and financial support came from Whyalla City Council, the South Australian government through BioSA, and Muradel’s shareholders.