May 16 2011 | Posted by SSSandy

University of Sydney expert developing next generation biofuels

The University of Sydney's Professor Thomas Maschmeyer is behind cutting edge research that could fuel the aviation industry from sustainable energy sources in the not too distant future.

Speaking recently on the ABC's The Science Show, Professor Maschmeyer said the process uses what is known as lignocellulosic feedstocks – sourced either from existing processes in the pulp and paper industry or even grass cuttings.

“We are making biocrude oil out of lignocellulosic feedstock… using a high pressure, high temperature process that is aided by catalysts to remove the biomass oxygen,” Professor Maschmeyer, an ARC Federation and Future Fellow, told presenter Robyn Williams.

The process, developed in co-operation with Ignite Energy Resources, will be making use of a research processing plant located on campus that was built in collaboration with Professor Brian Haynes, a chemical engineer at the University of Sydney. The procedure retains four times more energy in the biocrude than is retained in bioethanol, Professor Maschmeyer explained.

Although he is optimistic the technology will be a major boon for the aviation industry – which faces a significant squeeze from predicted oil price escalation in the next few years – he says the need for large quantities of biomass will require some innovative thinking.

“If we were to change all of the aviation fuels into renewable fuels, based on our process… we would need about 10 percent of the world's current agriculture production.

“That's a large number, but I can imagine that to be possible via maybe macroalgae – going offshore, into salt water, not competing with current land use, not competing with fresh water.”

Prime Minister Julia Gillard recently announced Professor Maschmeyer would help advise on the establishment of a new $20 million Australian Biofuels Research Institute.

As part of the Institute's Establishment Council, Professor Maschmeyer will help set the Institute's priorities, including the development of cost-effective biofuels that are neither derived from food sources nor will deplete Australian native forests.