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Victoria leads global ethanol template

Waste matter: The Flex Ethanol Australia plant will create fuel from household waste.

Victorian facility to lead global Coskata ethanol municipal waste plant model

18 Jan 2011

AUSTRALIA’S first plant to produce ethanol from municipal rubbish will introduce world-first technology when it comes on stream in around 2014.

The Flex Ethanol Australia plant – announced last month by a consortium headed by GM Holden and Caltex – will employ technology developed by the Coskata group in North America.

It will introduce a breakthrough refining process to make ethanol blended with petrol, employing proprietary microorganisms, as well as patented bioreactor designs, to break down virtually any waste material made of carbon, including waste straight from household rubbish bins.

This contrasts to Coskata’s North American demonstration facility in Pennsylvania, which uses wood biomass as its feedstock.

According to Coskata – which is financially backed by General Motors but is not an equity partner in Flex Ethanol Australia – the municipal waste processing plant in Victoria will be the first full-scale realisation of its technology outside the US.

80 center imageThe Coskata process and GM Holden Chairman Mike Devereux

“We’re in a position to now move to the next stage of the process, which is scaling up to a commercial design and full-scale processes,” said Coskata vice-president James Fawley.

“Our technology is cost-competitive with gasoline as a transportation fuel (and) we have designs that are ready to be put into play for commercial scale facilities.

“We are looking to licence our technology broadly to maximise the difference that our technology will make in finding solutions to some of the key issues that some countries will be facing … in terms of finding environmentally sustainable fuel that will enhance economic growth in a cost-competitive way.”

GM Holden chairman and managing director Mike Devereux said in December the plant could turn up to one million tonnes of household, agricultural and building waste into more than 200 million litres of ethanol annually.

It is an especially useful way of treating the problem of used tyres, hundreds of thousands of which are sent to Australian landfill each year.

“The organism does not care whether that carbon dioxide and nitrogen came from a tyre, a piece of biomass or whatever – it all works the same. All they need is that carbon dioxide and nitrogen for it to work,” said a Coskata spokesman.

The location of the Victorian processing plant is expected to be announced soon.

A Holden spokesman said that, while the site need not be large, a buffer zone would be necessary, while the logistics and cost of getting rubbish to the plant would also be a key consideration.

In September, Holden became the first Australian manufacturer to introduce a locally built car capable of running on E85 ethanol when it launched the VE Series II Commodore range, while Caltex offers E85 from 30 service stations across Australia.

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