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Broadening the horizon for biofuels

14 September 2006

Broadening the horizon for biofuels

New Zealand needs to explore novel sources for producing biofuels if they are to play a greater role in meeting our energy needs, according to researchers at the University of Auckland.

Professor Mohammed Farid, from the Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering, and PhD student Sam Behzadi, will present this view at an international Chemical Engineering Conference “CHEMECA2006” to be held in Auckland this weekend.

Professor Farid has been studying the conversion of tallow (animal fat) and vegetable fats into biodeisel for five years and has developed patented technology to process fats into fuel. This technology will lower the production cost of biodiesel in the future.

However, the reliance on conventional sources such as animal and vegetable fats is not sustainable long term. Professor Farid says alternative sources that are cheaper and more abundant need to be identified. At present New Zealand may only be able to meet 5 percent of its diesel needs through biodiesel, but much higher targets can be set if alternative raw materials are investigated.

Biofuels can be either biodiesel, made from fats, or bioethanol, made from cellulose found in plants. The government is considering raising the use of biofuels to 2.25 percent by 2012. Britain has set a target of 5 per cent by 2010.

“Vegetable and animal fats are valuable food resources. We should be broadening our horizons by shifting our thinking away from using these resources to more viable feedstocks, which can increase our fuel production capabilities and reduce our reliance on crude oil,” Mr Behzadi says.

“Now is the time to start identifying alternative feedstocks such as micro-organisms and crops that we can harvest in New Zealand for the specific purpose of converting into biodiesel. Then we can start considering targets of at least 5 percent, or even 10 or 20 percent.”

Oils derived from algae, flax or similar natural materials that can be produced easily in New Zealand have been identified by Mr Behzadi as possible alternatives.

“The cost of raw materials accounts for greater than 70 percent of the biodiesel production cost. For biodiesel to play an active role in our energy needs, it must be produced at a much lower price while still meeting international fuel standards.” Professor Farid says.

The 34th Annual Australasian Chemical Engineering conference will be held from 17 to 20 September at the Langham Hotel in Auckland. More than 175 Wworld experts on chemical and materials engineering will present their insights into industry, research and the profession.

A key note speaker will be David Penny from New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, who will address a National Manufacturing Strategy for New Zealand being released later this year.


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