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Cellulosic ethanol from sugarcane bagasse in Australia : exploring industry feasibility through systems analysis, techno-economic assessment and pilot plant development

O'Hara, Ian Mark (2011) Cellulosic ethanol from sugarcane bagasse in Australia : exploring industry feasibility through systems analysis, techno-economic assessment and pilot plant development. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


Overcoming many of the constraints to early stage investment in biofuels production from sugarcane bagasse in Australia requires an understanding of the complex technical, economic and systemic challenges associated with the transition of established sugar industry structures from single product agri-businesses to new diversified multi-product biorefineries. While positive investment decisions in new infrastructure requires technically feasible solutions and the attainment of project economic investment thresholds, many other systemic factors will influence the investment decision. These factors include the interrelationships between feedstock availability and energy use, competing product alternatives, technology acceptance and perceptions of project uncertainty and risk. This thesis explores the feasibility of a new cellulosic ethanol industry in Australia based on the large sugarcane fibre (bagasse) resource available. The research explores industry feasibility from multiple angles including the challenges of integrating ethanol production into an established sugarcane processing system, scoping the economic drivers and key variables relating to bioethanol projects and considering the impact of emerging technologies in improving industry feasibility. The opportunities available from pilot scale technology demonstration are also addressed. Systems analysis techniques are used to explore the interrelationships between the existing sugarcane industry and the developing cellulosic biofuels industry. This analysis has resulted in the development of a conceptual framework for a bagassebased cellulosic ethanol industry in Australia and uses this framework to assess the uncertainty in key project factors and investment risk. The analysis showed that the fundamental issue affecting investment in a cellulosic ethanol industry from sugarcane in Australia is the uncertainty in the future price of ethanol and government support that reduces the risks associated with early stage investment is likely to be necessary to promote commercialisation of this novel technology. Comprehensive techno-economic models have been developed and used to assess the potential quantum of ethanol production from sugarcane in Australia, to assess the feasibility of a soda-based biorefinery at the Racecourse Sugar Mill in Mackay, Queensland and to assess the feasibility of reducing the cost of production of fermentable sugars from the in-planta expression of cellulases in sugarcane in Australia. These assessments show that ethanol from sugarcane in Australia has the potential to make a significant contribution to reducing Australia’s transportation fuel requirements from fossil fuels and that economically viable projects exist depending upon assumptions relating to product price, ethanol taxation arrangements and greenhouse gas emission reduction incentives. The conceptual design and development of a novel pilot scale cellulosic ethanol research and development facility is also reported in this thesis. The establishment of this facility enables the technical and economic feasibility of new technologies to be assessed in a multi-partner, collaborative environment. As a key outcome of this work, this study has delivered a facility that will enable novel cellulosic ethanol technologies to be assessed in a low investment risk environment, reducing the potential risks associated with early stage investment in commercial projects and hence promoting more rapid technology uptake. While the study has focussed on an exploration of the feasibility of a commercial cellulosic ethanol industry from sugarcane in Australia, many of the same key issues will be of relevance to other sugarcane industries throughout the world seeking diversification of revenue through the implementation of novel cellulosic ethanol technologies.

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ID Code: 48119
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Edye, Leslie & Kent, Geoffrey
Keywords: sugarcane, bagasse, lignocellulose, fibre, biofuels, biorefinery, ethanol, pretreatment, systems analysis, uncertainty, risk, techno-economic assessment, feasibility, plant expressed enzymes, pilot plant
Divisions: Past > QUT Faculties & Divisions > Faculty of Science and Technology
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 17 Jan 2012 05:55
Last Modified: 07 Oct 2014 02:16

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