Muradel Pty Ltd

10 Feb 2015

Renewable fuels company Muradel has launched Australia’s first integrated demonstration plant to sustainably convert algae into green crude, as a first step towards a commercial plant with the potential to produce 80 million litres of crude oil a year.

The $10.7 million demonstration plant was formally opened on 31 October 2014 by Regional Development Minister the Hon Geoff Brock, and Mr Ian Kay, the Chief Financial Officer of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA).

The Muradel plant utilises their world-leading Green2Black™ technology to produce “green crude oil” in a Hydrothermal Liquefaction (HTL) reactor.

Paddle Wheel

“HTL is leading edge right now, but the technology is not yet commercialised,” said Dr Andrew Milligan, Muradel’s Business Development Manager.

“We’ve got a demonstration scale HTL reactor, which is continuous flow, durable and feedstock flexible – that’s a very important feature of our reactor.”

Already the demonstration plant is producing renewable crude from a variety of feedstocks, including marine microalgae, which is grown in production ponds on site, and from “biosolids”.

Biosolids are the bacteria-rich by-product from wastewater treatment plants treating sewage. For many treatment plants, biosolids are an intractable problem that they end up stockpiling.

“So it’s available in huge quantities and it makes for good quality crude oil in our system,” Dr Milligan said.

“It’s going to take a while to scale microalgae production to a point where we can have a commercial plant accessing exclusively microalgae. But biosolids is the here-and-now feedstock, and it could get us more quickly to a commercial scale plant.”

BioSA (now TechInSA) has recently awarded a grant to another SA company, Australian Agave Pty Ltd, to partially fund a feasibility study into using the agave plant as another alternative feedstock for the Muradel plant, further minimising risk by diversifying input options.

The Whyalla plant is the first step in scaling the Green2Black™ technology up to commercial production. By the start of 2017, Muradel expects to begin expanding the Whyalla site up to a 1000 hectare plant able to produce 500,000 barrels of refinable green crude per year – providing enough petrol and diesel to fuel 30,000 vehicles for a year.

The green crude produced by the demonstration plant is functionally equivalent to fossil crude, and Muradel is in negotiations with downstream oil refiners and distributors to have their crude fractionated into usable fuel sources. They hope to be able to announce the details of these discussions soon.

Muradel’s green credentials have been validated with the company voted by industry experts as Australia’s top bioproducts company. Dr Milligan collected the award at the 2014 Advanced Bioeconomy Leadership Conference in San Francisco.

“And the reception in Whyalla has been great. Whyalla City Council has been really supportive as well as the community and some of the industry up there,” Dr Milligan said.

“We used over 100 contracting companies for the construction of the demonstration plant… and we hope to work more closely with Whyalla’s heavy industry in the future to capture their carbon dioxide waste streams and put that into our ponds to feed the microalgae.”

The expansion to a commercial plant would also mean a capital investment of at least $200 million into the area, as well as the creation of around 100 jobs. The current demonstration plant employs six people, and this will continue to grow in the coming years as the facility increases production.

The Whyalla demonstration plant was made possible by a $4.4 million grant from ARENA and the ongoing support of Muradel’s founding partners, Adelaide Research and Innovation Pty Ltd (The University of Adelaide), Murdoch University, and SQC Pty Ltd. Muradel also maintains close collaborations with Indian companies, Aban and Chennai Petroleum.

The company has recently received a grant from BioSA (now TechInSA) to integrate renewable energy technologies into the operating plant to reduce production costs.

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Muradel Pty Ltd