ARENA funds study into potential biofuels plant

The world’s first biorefinery that turns sawmill residue into renewable diesel and bitumen may find its home in New South Wales, following the Federal government’s announcement that a feasibility study will be funded to explore the possibility.

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) will provide up to $500,000 in funding to Boral Timber, a subsidiary of Boral Limited, to investigate the building of a “second-generation” biofuels refinery at Herons Creek near Port Macquarie.

Boral Timber’s $1.2 million study will explore the technical and financial viability of establishing a biorefinery using innovative technology, which would see biofuels derived from waste sawmill residues from its Herons Creek sawmill.

ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht said that, with liquid fuels remaining a key long-term energy source for heavy-vehicle road and air transport, the project marked an important step towards a renewable solution in this field.

“Bioenergy comprises a growing proportion of Australia’s energy mix, and this new technology could see residue from the production process be used to reduce Boral’s reliance on diesel and bitumen derived from fossil fuels,” Frischknecht said.

“If this ground-breaking technology is successful, we hope to see a transition to similar biorefineries by other companies which have a waste stream in forestry or agriculture.”

It is thought that up to 50,000 tonnes of waste sawmill residue produced each year could to converted into transport-grade renewable diesel and bitumen by the proposed refinery, which would cost an estimated $50 million to build.

The sawmill residue – including sawdust, remnant woodchips, shavings and offcuts – is currently used for lower value uses such as landscaping and boiler fuel.

Boral has one of the largest truck fleets in Australia, using approximately 100 million litres of diesel each year.

Boral’s executive general manager of building products Wayne Manners said that the biorefinery could eventually produce a transport-grade renewable diesel that makes up to five per cent of the company’s annual diesel needs.

“The application of this technology has the potential to transform the way we use low value hardwood sawmill residues into a resource that could be highly valuable not just to Boral but to the industry more generally,” Manners said.