Cheap biofuels from leaves and twigs

Non-food sources for biofuels.

Non-food plant materials produce lignocellulose,

a source of alternative fuels. (Photo: Gregory Heath, CSIRO)

Almost any leaves, twigs and bark can be converted into a biofuel, according to a new report from the CSIRO.

Lignocellulose, a component of plants and wood, can be used as a source of biofuels, with the potential to produce much more cost-competitive fuels.

Dr Victoria Haritos said the technology to convert plants into fuel presents a huge opportunity for Australia to expand the clean energy market.

“We have the potential to grow a lot of lignocellulose, the raw material for biofuels, we have a lot of land that would be suitable for growing this plant in Australia. And we also have the technological know-how,” she said.

“We see the great potential in the use of lignocellulose, such as plant leaves and woods, simply because there’s so more of it. And it grows so much faster with so much more biomass.”

Dr Haritos said the lignocellulose-extracted biofuel would represent the second generation of biofuels, which utilise a wider range of sources to generate fuel.

“The first generation biofuels are what we are familiar with at the moment, which usually come from cane sugar and wheat starch. The second generation biofuels aim to expand the biofuel industry enormously and use non-food sources to produce fuel.”

She said the US companies that are trialling the technology estimated the price of lignocellulose fuels at 26 cents a litre, an equivalent cost of oil at USD 40-60 a barrel.

Another advantage of the technology, she said, is its compatibility with current biofuel facilities.

 

“They [lignocellulose fuels] are certainly useful for production. For some types of the conversion of plant materials, you can just add on an extra unit in front of the current sugar biofuel facility,” Dr Haritos said.

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