Overseas interest in Sydney Uni's waste-to-bio-crude conversion technology

Thursday, 2 June 2016
Overseas interest in Sydney Uni's waste-to-bio-crude conversion technology

A local startup, Licella, has developed a process in partnership with the University of Sydney to convert low-cost, non-edible, waste biomass into a stable bio-crude oil.

Licella is a renewable energy start-up co-founded by Professor Thomas Maschmeyer. Its key process, called Catalytic Hydrothermal Reactor (Cat-HTR) technology, subjects water to elevated heat and pressure to process pulverised waste biomass, breaking down the ether linkages in the polymeric structure of the feedstock.

In this way, Cat-HTR breaks down plastics like polyethylene, polypropylene and polystyrene, as well as ligno-cellulosic biomass feedstock into low-molecular weight compounds, with little ash production, converting them into bio-crude, a petroleum substitute.

Bio-crude, also known as bio-oil, can go into existing petrochemical refinery streams to generate renewable fuels and/or chemicals.

Licella has recently signed two joint venture contracts with companies in the UK and in Canada which will see its technology implemented in those countries.

The first agreement is with UK company Renewable Chemical Technologies, which will see the partners building a world-first plant to convert end-of-life plastics into high-quality oil which can be blended into standard hydrocarbon fuels.

End-of-life plastics refer to the remnants of mixed plastics with small amounts of paper and cardboard that are left over from more easily recyclable components. These materials usually have to be painstakingly sorted in order to be recycled effectively, or go directly to the landfill.

However, Cat-HTR technology can process the mixture without requiring sorting, helping simplify recycling, and reducing costs. Additionally, the process does not produce dioxins, and does not require specialist gas clean up.

Renewable Chemical Technologies will invest over $10 million into Licella, and Licella will develop and test a Cat-HTR recycling plant in Australia, before shipping it to the UK. This initial plant will be a commercial-scale deployment of the solution, with up to 20,000 tonnes of waste converted to oil.

The second agreement is with Canadian pulp and paper producer CanFor, which will invest funds into Licella in order to build commercial-scale bio-crude plants that will be integrated with the adjoining pulp and paper plants, taking the biomass waste from the process, such as sawdust and pulp and paper byproducts, and converting it into bio-crude.

These plants will effectively allow CanFor to make use of the entire tree, rather than just select areas of the trunk, and then burning the rest as waste for low-quality process heat.

“Only 30% or so of a tree becomes paper, the rest is waste – we use this waste to make a new product – bio-crude oil from renewable, already aggregated waste,” Professor Maschmeyer said.

The agreement would also allow CanFor to transform itself from being strictly a pulp and paper manufacturer, to a bio-energy producer as well.

[Photo credit: Licella]

Don't forget to register for the Australian Engineering Conference 2016 in Brisbane on November 23-25.

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