Biorefining and bioproducts

Biomass processing helps to convert waste products from agricultural and forestry industries into valuable bioproducts including energy, chemicals, materials and animal feed. Converting waste into useable resources provides continued economic growth, higher standards of living and improved environmental outcomes. Despite significant progress worldwide, the production of biofuels and chemicals from biomass has achieved limited commercial success.

Our research expertise

Our transdisciplinary research team has expertise in the fields of chemistry, industrial biotechnology and engineering, and are developing and demonstrating processes and technologies that establish biomass as a commercially viable alternative source of energy and chemicals.

Optimal biomass supply chain design and management are critical to the commercial success of any biorefinery production plant. Our teams work across the project cycle, from discovery to laboratory testing, and pilot scale development to commercial application. Our researchers are engaged in developing sophisticated supply chain and large scale stockpiling models that ensure year-round, cost effective, secure and environmentally responsible delivery of biomass for industry.

Biorefining facilities

We designed, built and operate the Mackay Renewable Biocommodities Pilot Plant, Australia's only publicly accessible biorefinery pilot plant. The plant is located at an operating sugar factory in North Queensland and offers a unique research, development and demonstration facility that converts biomass into commercially viable biofuels, green chemicals and other bioproducts.

Research partnerships

We're leading a $4.5 million Australian Government and industry-funded project to develop technologies to convert agricultural and forestry by-products like sugarcane bagasse, cotton gin trash and wood chips into enhanced animal feeds, biochemical and biofuels.

We have established national and international research partnerships to lead bio-industry development.

Generating sustainable energy

Using biochemical processes, enzymes can be used to convert plant biomass into liquid fuels and other chemicals. We're leaders in developing low cost, low energy biomass pre-treatment strategies needed to produce ethanol and other biocommodities, and we currently hold three patents.

Our researchers are working on:

  • better understanding how biomass breaks down into energy-based products
  • pilot scale processing of biomass feedstocks to produce hydrocarbon-based oil using a thermochemical conversion process called hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL)
  • minimising the use of fossil fuels in agricultural production, transport and processing through the pre-treatment and anaerobic digestion of sugarcane residues.

Creating green chemicals from agricultural waste

Due to increasing environmental pressures and a growing consumer appetite for 'green' products, our researchers are developing a range of chemicals, resins, coatings and pharmaceutical ingredients from agricultural waste.

Through techniques like strain modification and improvement, process optimisation, scale-up, modelling and techno-economic assessment, our researchers are producing high-value microbial products from low-cost carbohydrates using yeast, fungi and algae.

As separation and purification are critical processes in the commercial production of green chemicals, we're developing extraction technologies that use environmentally safe solvents such as CO2 to break down complex mixtures. We have pilot plant solvent extraction and gas anti-solvent facilities based at the QUT Banyo Pilot Plant Precinct.

New biodegradable and sustainable materials

Non-degradable plastics are doing extensive and long term damage to flora and fauna as they accumulate in waterways and oceans. Some plastics may be recycled but most are either disposed of in landfill sites or incinerated producing CO2 and toxic substances. There is increasing demand to replace these materials with biodegradable sustainable alternatives such as natural fibre composites, starch-based polymers, polyhydroxy-alkanoates-based films, and multi-components films. We're investing significant research and development into understanding the role of polymer-matrix interactions in forming biomaterials.

Cheaper and more nutritious animal feed

Global demand for animal products is increasing, with significant growth in demand within Asia. Australian agriculture is uniquely placed to satisfy these demands but must develop new feed products incorporating ingredients with lower prices, greater availability, and comparable or enhanced feed characteristics. Biomass residues such as sugarcane bagasse, cotton and forestry residues have significant potential to be used for animal feeds and are generally cheaper than other feed ingredients.

Our researchers are currently developing new technologies to improve the nutritional quality of sugarcane industry by-products and improve the digestibility of protein in cotton seed meal. We are developing new soluble sugar products for animal feed from sugar and forestry industry residues, and producing microbial proteins from sugarcane, cotton, and forestry residues to add into animal feed as a replacement for grains. This research is part of a large project funded by the Australian Government's Rural Research and Development for Profit program.

We have strong analytical expertise and facilities relating to biomass characterisation at both macro and microstructural levels. We've developed an innovative online near-infrared spectroscopy (NIR) system for the factory-based monitoring of feedstock composition irrespective of biomass type, which will allow for rapid and automated adjustment of processing conditions in commercial biorefineries in response to changes in feedstock quality and type.

Research projects

Lead contributors