Upper Hunter region receives bio-renewable boost

Friday, 4 May 2018


A revolutionary bio-renewable energy project borne in the Hunter is one step closer to implementation following the announcement of $4.6 million in funding from the New South Wales Government to construct the Hunter Pilot Biorefinery (HPB) in Muswellbrook.

Sugar cane crop

The purpose-built facility will be constructed by Apace Research Limited (Apace) to enable the development and demonstration of biomass-based projects at pilot plant scale, including the Ethanol Technologies (Ethtec) Cellulosic Ethanol Pilot Plant Project.

In partnership with Muswellbrook Shire Council and the University of Newcastle’s Newcastle Institute for Energy and Resources (NIER), Ethtec is developing an environmentally sustainable process to produce biofuels and other renewable chemicals from crop and forestry waste.

Ethtec Senior Biotechnologist, Dr Geoff Doherty, said securing funding for the HPB was the final piece of the puzzle for the project.

“The HPB has the potential to revolutionise how we look at biomass. We are on the cusp of being able to transform low-value biomass into high-value products such as biofuels and green chemicals. Being able to demonstrate these technologies at pilot plant scale is an essential step on the commercialisation pathway,” he said.

The HPB will significantly reduce the costs associated with research, development and demonstration of biomass-based processes at pilot plant scale; and assist in commercialising ethanol fuel and renewable chemicals sourced from non-food biomass.

NIER Executive Director, Professor Alan Broadfoot, said the facility will help diversify and grow the Upper Hunter economy.

“There is a global push to capture value from agricultural and forestry waste streams. A facility like this has the potential to bring new skills to the Hunter Valley and will complement the University’s existing research in energy and resources within the region,” Professor Broadfoot said.

Ethtec Senior Research Engineer, Andrew Reeves, added to this and suggested that technologies developed in the HPB over the coming years have the potential to transform the Upper Hunter Valley into a biorenewables hub.

“A prosperous mining industry with associated areas of land requiring bioremediation presents an opportunity to grow feedstocks for a local bioeconomy. We have had productive discussions with local mining companies on this topic and we look forward to progressing discussions now that the funding for the HPB is in place.”

Mayor of Muswellbrook, Martin Rush, said the HPB, along with existing infrastructure, will offer attractive investment opportunities within the region.

“This is a major economic development initiative for the region. Council has worked alongside Apace, Ethtec and the University of Newcastle to initiate this project in the Shire and we welcome the significant contributions from all partners involved at all levels of government.”

Apace Managing Director and Chief Chemist, Dr Russell Reeves, said the HPB will enable a higher rate of commercial deployment of biorefining and bioenergy technologies into the future.

“The facility will be state-of-the-art and contain general purpose biomass processing and fermentation equipment that will be broadly applicable to a range of technologies. Now that the funding is in place we look forward to discussing projects with a range of stakeholders including industry, universities and government”, Dr Reeves said.