Fuelling international green research

ala-fellowsFlinders University has signed ongoing research collaborations with two of the world’s most populous nations after senior scientists spent two months exploring how biofuels might offer their respective countries greater food and energy security.

The researchers – four from Indonesia’s Agency for Assessment and Application of Technology (BPPT), two from the Indian Institute of Chemical Technology and another from India’s Andhra University – are at Flinders as Australian Leadership Awards (ALA) Fellows, funded by the Federal Government through AusAID.

Leader of Flinders Materials and BioEnergy Group, Dr Stephen Clarke, said the two-month program of activities would allow the Fellows to learn about the latest developments in advanced biofuels technologies.

“The Fellows, some of whom already conduct biofuels research, have been involved in a wide range of activities, including workshops, lectures and lab-based work,” Dr Clarke said.

“They attended the SA CleverGreen Conference, a series of masterclasses and met with literally dozens of academics, government and industry officials, and students,” he said.

“They’ve also visited biofuels research sites at West Beach, Thebarton, Port Lincoln and elsewhere in the State, and through our training partner, Queensland University of Technology, similar sites in south-east Queensland.”

Mr Mochamad Rosjidi, Head of BPPT’s Chemical Industry division, said while Indonesia had already mandated the use of biodiesel and bioethanol for transport, biofuels were at a price disadvantage compared with petroleum oil.

“We are looking to new technologies to improve the efficiency of biofuel production in order to reduce the cost,” Mr Rosjidi said.

“We currently use a lot of feedstock – cassava, molasses, palm oil – in the manufacture of Generation 1 biofuels. Now we are looking to Generation 2 biofuels and we’re very interested in Flinders research in this area,” he said.

“The potential to use microalgae as biofuel, in particular, may have advantages for a tropical country like Indonesia.”

Mr Rosjidi said energy security is critical to the future of Indonesia, a former OPEC member with a population of more than 228 million people which now imports more oil than it exports.

Dr Sutapa Ghosh, an inorganic chemist working as a scientist at the IICT, said food security was a high priority for India.

“We don’t want to use anything in the production of biofuels that is usable for food,” Dr Ghosh said.

“That’s why we’re focusing on feedstocks that are non-food materials, such as the plant Jatropha curcas,” she said.

“But we should not use agricultural land to cultivate these crops; we should use wasteland instead. The Indian government is supporting farmers with low interest loans to cultivate these things.”

India, too, has mandated the use of 20 per cent biodiesel as a blend by 2017.

“We need to make biodiesel cost-effective. To make it cheaper, we need to use all of the waste in the process. I’m here partly to learn how I can use my expertise to make value-added products from the biofuel production process,” Dr Ghosh said.

“I’m already working on biodegradable packaging and after hearing what is done here at Flinders with algae, I’ll be working on ways to use by-products to strengthen my packaging to reduce the cost of biofuels.”

Associate Professor P.V. Rao, of the Mechanical Engineering Department of Andhra University, Vishakhapatnam, India said he visited Flinders to see how different disciplines can come together to work on biofuel production and application.

“It is a multi-disciplinary program. No one discipline can solve all the problems,” Associate Professor Rao said.

“Producing a quality biofuel that’s cost-effective, works well in internal combustion engines and meets international emission targets, involves botanists and biologists, chemical engineers and biotechnologists, analytical chemists, mechanical and automotive engineers,” he said.

“That’s why we’re here. Very good worldwide coordination is required and we should work together.”

Memoranda of understanding signed during the visit between Flinders and both BPPT will facilitate collaborative research and the education of students from India and Indonesia in biofuels and other clean technologies.

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