Analysis and Commentary

Towards 3% R&D – innovation in biofuels by Geoff Bell of MicroBioGen

Analysis and Commentary

Biofuels are one of Australia’s biggest industrial and environmental opportunities. Today in our editorial series – Towards 3% R&D – Turbocharging Australia’s Innovation Effort – Geoff Bell looks at what is needed to make promise a reality.

Australia, with its extensive demand for air travel and rich natural resources like biomass, solar and wind, is well-placed to develop a sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) industry.

Producing SAF locally would significantly reduce the environmental footprint of air travel while bolstering energy security, especially in times of crisis or conflict.

With proper investment in R&D, Australia is poised to lead globally in SAF production. However, two of the main barriers to Australia becoming a powerhouse for SAF production are food insecurity and the impact on our environment.

Specifically, the challenge lies in identifying the best feedstocks to create jet fuel that is both eco-friendly and economically viable. Valorising existing large scale waste streams to produce, for example, food or feed by-products is one solution.

Players actively making progress in establishing Australia’s renewable fuels industry include:

  • Bioenergy Australia and energy majors such as BP Australia advocate for mandates, policy support and creating public awareness
  • The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), together with Qantas and CSIRO have created a SAF Roadmap to chart a path for ethanol-to-jet (ETJ) fuel use
  • Jet Zero and LanzaJet, with support from Qantas, Airbus, and the Queensland Government, are building an ethanol-to-jet facility
  • CSIRO, Sugar Research Australia and the University of Queensland joined an international research consortium for the sequencing of the sugarcane genome.
  • And agricultural chemical company Nufarm is seeking approvals to grow the energy crop Carinata.

@AuManufacturing is publishing contributions from readers for our series – Towards 3% R&D – turbocharging our national innovation effort – over a, month and will shortly publish contributions in an e-Book. Information: Peter Roberts, 0419 140679 or write to [email protected].

At MicroBioGen, the Australian biotech company I lead, we have developed a non-GM yeast that can convert waste streams into high-quality single-cell protein. Our ‘yeast technology as a service’ makes the production of ethanol more efficient, cheaper and sustainable.

This waste to protein technology could accelerate Australia’s large-scale production of SAF.

Need for biofuels policy framework

The domestic biofuels sector’s growth promises substantial benefits but there are hurdles. Locally we need a policy framework which includes financial incentives to lower production costs; regulatory measures to guarantee SAF quality; public awareness initiatives; development of infrastructure and capacity; and stakeholder cooperation.

Internationally, a coalition of SAF stakeholders was recently announced to accelerate SAF deployment in the US. A similar coalition is needed in Australia.

In Australia, the biofuel industry is ripe for innovation, leveraging the country’s abundant natural resources and robust research infrastructure.

Strategic collaboration and biotechnological advancements are key to developing a sustainable biofuels market.

Developing SAF is essential for diminishing aviation’s environmental footprint and fostering economic and social growth, aligning with Australia’s aim for jet zero.

Geoff Bell is the CEO and co-founder of biotechnology company MicroBioGen, which is enhancing the industrial capabilities of Saccharomyces cerevisiae – also known as baker’s yeast – and its extensive yeast genetics library. Recently in partnership with Novonesis it co-developed the Innova yeast series. Prior to joining MicroBioGen, Geoff spent more than 15 years in stockbroking and investment banking in senior positions at global banks.

This series is brought to you through the support of our principal sponsor, public accounting, tax, consulting and business advisory BDO, and R&D tax incentive consultancy Michael Johnson Associates.

Picture: Geoff Bell

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