Qld research could eliminate fossil fuel use in sugar industry


Thursday, 05 May, 2016

Researchers from Queensland University of Technology (QUT) are developing and testing new technologies with the potential to eliminate the use of fossil fuels in the sugar industry.

Associate Professor Ian O’Hara, from QUT’s Centre for Tropical Crops and Biocommodities, said the research — part of a $5.7 million, three-year project — would see new technologies developed that could turn sugarcane trash into renewable fuels for use in sugarcane farming, processing and transportation.

“While the sugar industry produces large amounts of bioenergy from sugarcane bagasse, with surplus electricity exported to the grid, significant quantities of fossil-based fuels are used in the growing, harvesting and transport of sugarcane and in certain factory operations,” Professor O’Hara said.

“This project seeks to reduce or eliminate the use of fossil fuels in sugarcane production by developing technologies for biogas production from sugarcane residues that convert the residues to renewable fuels suitable for farming use and transportation.”

Professor O’Hara said the major sources of fossil fuel use in the sugar industry are diesel use for planting, cultivation, harvesting and transporting sugarcane, and coal use in factories. While sugarcane waste could be collected, separated and burnt in cogeneration boilers for electricity production, he said research had shown it was generally not an economically viable option.

“Instead, we want to develop technologies that allow sugarcane trash and surplus bagasse to be economically biodigested to produce biogas, which can be upgraded to biomethane to replace diesel use in sugarcane farming and transportation and replace coal use in factories,” he said.

“It is about turning a waste disposal problem into a bioenergy opportunity for the sugar industry and, as a result, reducing the carbon footprint of raw sugar production and increasing income from bioenergy.”

Professor O’Hara said the use of fossil fuels in Australian’s $2 billion sugar industry resulted in greenhouse gas emissions and was a major cost burden on the industry.

“The project will develop technologies that offer the opportunity to reduce or perhaps even completely replace the use of these fossil fuels with fuels derived from sugar processing wastes,” he said.

The project has received funding from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) and partners including Griffith University, Sunshine Sugar and Utilitas.

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