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Australia Defines Best Algae Cultivation Locations

September 12, 2012
AlgaeIndustryMagazine.com

Professor Michael Borowitzka, of Murdoch University

Professor Michael Borowitzka, of Murdoch University

Scientists have identified a number of Western Australia (WA) sites capable of producing large quantities of commercial biofuel from microalgae. They say the best sites for big-scale algal biofuel plants include stretches of land south of Geraldton, southeast of Exmouth and large areas near Karratha and Port Hedland.

Professor Michael Borowitzka from Murdoch University’s Algae Research and Development Centre, and Assistant Professor Bryan Boruff from the School of Earth and Environment at The University of Western Australia, used Geographical Information Systems (GIS) technology to study more than 2250km of WA coastline from Lancelin to Broome and 170km inland.

Their report, Identification of the Optimum Sites for Industrial-scale Microalgae Biofuel Production in WA using a GIS Model, was prepared for the WA Government-funded Centre for Research into Energy for Sustainable Transport (CREST) and is the first WA-wide study of its kind.

Professor Borowitzka, a world authority on algal biofuel production, said WA had several key advantages for suitable sites: abundant sunshine, extensive land unsuitable for agriculture and plenty of water in the Indian Ocean.

“But not all of WA is ideal for such plants, so we examined sites scientifically by assessing land suitability, access to infrastructure and workforce, carbon dioxide availability − along with nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus − and climate,” he said. “More research and development is needed to find the most energy-efficient and economically feasible way to extract and convert algal biomass into renewable bioenergy.”

Assistant Professor Boruff added: “Commercial success depends on economically viable, large-scale production, which is why this study is so important.”

WA already has the world’s biggest commercial microalgae production plant at Hutt Lagoon, north of Geraldton. US biofuel producer Aurora Algae and Australian biofuel start-up company Muradel Pty Ltd − a joint venture between Murdoch University, Adelaide Research and Innovation Pty Ltd and SQC Pty Ltd − have also built pilot plants in Karratha.

Aurora Algae, a United States-based company, has been operating in Western Australia for more than two years. It has managed a pilot facility in Karratha for approximately one year, and Aurora is now expanding the facility to full-scale commercial size.

The commercial-scale facility, to be located at the site of the pilot operation in Karratha, will involve 400 hectares of algae growth ponds constructed in two phases. Aurora expects to break ground on first phase, 100 hectares, in the middle of 2013 and bring it online approximately one year later.

The facility that Aurora currently operates in Karratha cost just over $10 million to construct, and received $2 million in funding from the Western Australian Government through the Low-Emissions Energy Development Fund.

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