Study evaluates biorefining opportunities in South Australia

By Erin Voegele | January 07, 2014

The VTT Technical Research Center of Finland recently authored a report for the Australian government that investigates bioenergy opportunities in the Green Triangle region, located in the country’s southwest region. The report includes a set of seven pathways to raise short-term production value and establish specialized biorefinery businesses in the long term.

According to information released by VTT, South Australia features more than 340,000 hectares of plantation forest, primarily consisting of pine and eucalyptus. In South Australia’s Green Triangle region, the sawmill industry provides work for approximately 35 percent of the population.

Information released by VTT states that the short-term productivity of the region’s forestry industry can be improved through more efficient use of timber resources, increased production value for the construction industry and capitalizing on opportunities offered by fiber raw material and individual side streams. For example, VTT noted that x-ray scanning used to analyze the inner structure of timber and identify it for optimal use could increase yield volumes by 5 percent.

In the long term, VTT recommended the development of biorefineries to produce biobased chemicals and polymers, nanocellulose, cellulose-based textiles and absorbing materials and membranes.

One pathway outlined in the analysis applies specifically to the production of bio-oil by fast pyrolysis, the production of biochar by torrefaction and the production of power, heat and biofuels via a gasification process. According to the report, pyrolysis plants could be realized in the Green Triangle in a three-to-five year timeframe and could utilize a significant volume of unused forest residues available in the region. Regarding the production of biochar, the report there is a significant market opportunity for the cofiring of biochar with coal in the regional energy, mining and metal industries. For gasification projects, the report notes that under a favorable feedstock cost level and with incentives for biofuel and bioenergy in place, the first gasification plants could be realized in the region over a three to five year period.

The analysis was completed in two stages. Stage one focused on the existing sawmill and forest industry companies in the Green Triangle region. The recently released second stage included a technology roadmap for the local forestry industry that includes a technology assessment and analysis of the technology readiness level, global industry consultation and a strategic roadmap that builds a draft agenda for joint strategic research and development activities and includes policy recommendations for the government.

A full copy of the report is available on the South Australia Department for Manufacturing, Innovation, Trade, Resources and Energy website.