Work starts on world-class biorefinery for the Hunter

Thursday, 17 January 2019

Work has started on the first bio-renewables research facility of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere which will put the Hunter region on the map as a national hub for bio-renewables research, development and commercialisation.

Deputy Premier and Minister for Regional NSW John Barilaro and the Member for the Upper Hunter Michael Johnsen turn the first sod.

Deputy Premier and Minister for Regional NSW John Barilaro and the Member for the Upper Hunter Michael Johnsen visited the site today to officially launch stage one building work for the project.

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

Mr Barilaro said the Hunter region is already a powerhouse for the Australian energy market delivering visionary methods of power delivery to households and supporting employment across the region.

“The Hunter Pilot Biorefinery has the potential to revolutionise the way we create energy here in Australia, and today we mark the start of a very exciting future for this region,” Mr Barilaro said.

“Muswellbrook is already an energy hub for the state and will now be home to a centre for world-class research into renewable and clean energy.

“With regional NSW already a breeding ground for innovation, our investment in the Hunter Pilot Biorefinery has proved yet again regional industries bring incredible opportunities to the state in new business, skills, education and jobs."

Stage one of the Hunter Pilot Biorefinery received $4.6 million from the NSW Government under the Growing Local Economies fund, established by the NSW Liberal and Nationals Government to unlock long-term growth opportunities in regional NSW through targeted infrastructure investment.

Ethtec Senior Biotechnologist and University of Newcastle Conjoint Lecturer, Dr Geoff Doherty, said the Hunter Pilot Biorefinery had the potential to transform the agricultural and forestry sectors.

“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.

Executive Director Newcastle Institute for Energy and Resources (NIER), Professor Alan Broadfoot, said the facility built on the University's existing world-class research in energy and resources.

"The facility aligns with a global push to capture value from forestry and agricultural waste streams. It has the potential to bring new and innovative skills to the Hunter region, complement existing industry and support economic diversification in the area."

Member for Upper Hunter Michael Johnsen said the project will boost ‘smart jobs’, attract new investment and ensure cutting edge innovation continues in the energy sector in regional NSW.

“The work that will be conducted in these buildings is of international significance. Putting the Hunter at the forefront of bio-renewables research and development will be an incredible achievement which will benefit the whole community,” Mr Johnsen said.

“The Hunter is an economic powerhouse for the NSW and highlights when Government and industry partner effectively we can set both our states’ energy and economic future.”

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

“The HPB will be a state-of-the-art facility containing biomass processing and fermentation equipment applicable to a range of biofuel and renewable chemical production technologies.

“We are looking forward to discussing projects with a range of stakeholders including industry, universities and government,” Dr Reeves said.

The foundation project of the Biorefinery is a $30 million cellulosic ethanol pilot plant project by Apace Research Limited (Apace), Ethanol Technologies Limited (Ethtec), the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), Chinese engineering company JTL and the University of Newcastle.

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The University of Newcastle acknowledges the traditional custodians of the lands within our footprint areas: Awabakal, Darkinjung, Biripai, Worimi, Wonnarua, and Eora Nations. We also pay respect to the wisdom of our Elders past and present.