US company looks to Karratha for biofuel plant

US-based company Aurora Algae is building a $300 million plant next year in Karratha, which has what has been called an ideal climate for microalgae production.

 

ABC’s Landline reports that WA’s west coast has been identified as having excellent conditions for producing biofuel from algae, due to its sunshine, warm temperatures and large demand from the state’s resources industry for energy.

 

“What we've learned is that we can grow algae at tremendous rates here in the Pilbara,” Paul Brunato, Aurora’s marketing manager, told Lateline. Aurora opened a test facility in Karratha in 2011.

 

“The species of algae that we're working with, nannochloropsis, is able to double in volume on a daily basis. We're essentially growing food, fuel and pharmaceuticals in holes in the desert and watering it with sea water. So, we're able to produce crops in places where no other form of agriculture would grow.”

 

According to a discussion paper by think tank Future Directions International, algae culture could potentially make Australia self-sufficient in terms of fuel, as well as deliver $50 billion and create 50,000 jobs.

 

One sceptic of the benefits of biofuel production said the technology was currently not economical, costing 50 to 80 cents to create a litre of fuel.

 

"It's still actually quite a long way away,” Professor Michael Borowitzka from Murdoch University told the ABC.

 

We have to reduce the cost of production by at least a factor of 10."

Algae farming is currently profitable for health products and in food. Cognis Australia, a subsidiary of BASF, for example, operates facilities at Whyalla and Karratha and is the biggest producer in the world, according to its website, of algal beta-carotene and carotenoid.

Another company, MBD Energy, has had success using algae to treat wastewater, among other uses.

 

Image: Clean Wisconsin blog

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