Landfill waste transformed into commercial grade gasoline and diesel as part of the CQUniversity project

Waste is piling up in Australian landfills at an exponential rate and “costing the economy and the environment billions”, according to a CQUniversity researcher, but he believes he has found a solution.

Postdoctoral researcher Mohammed Jahirul Islam has completed pilot testing of a method that turns polystyrene, tires, particle board, agricultural waste, other used plastics, and solid waste into commercial grade gasoline and diesel.

“We can use this very low quality solid waste that cannot be used in any other type of recycling. [and] converting it into a useful product, ”Dr Islam said.

He said the practice would generate income and reduce Australia’s dependence on imported fossil fuels.

“We spend over $ 50 billion each year to treat solid waste,” Dr Islam said.

The treatment of mixed waste from landfills into fuel is a complex process.(ABC News: Lewi Hirvela)

Professor Mohammed Rasul, the project’s supervisor, said it was the first of its kind to reach this scale in Australia.

“No one has done all the mixed solid waste by pyrolysis, distillation and hydrotreatment as far as I know,” he said.

“We are 100% confident that we will get the product of a quality that is required for Australian standard diesel. “

Hands palm up holding pieces of cut plastic bottles, other garbage in background.
Plastic bottles are one of many products the team turns into commercial grade gasoline and diesel fuel.(ABC Capricorn: Erin Semmler)

How much would that cost?

Professor Rasul said its price was incomparable to standard diesel, but would become more competitive as production increased.

Ben Tabulo, CEO of Renewable Southern Oil, said the project follows “successful” work with RMIT and CQU.

“We definitely see it as a commercially viable process,” he said.

“[It] is generated from waste and so obviously there are incentives in place for waste handling – a lot of the increase comes from that end.

“The fuel itself actually has no associated green bonus.

“If you pay $ 1.30 for diesel from fossil sources, you would pay $ 1.30 for diesel from renewable sources.”

Eight different types of solid waste next to nine jars of oil and fuel laid out on a table.
The project transforms polystyrene, tires, plastic waste, particle board and other mixed solid landfill waste into commercial grade gasoline and diesel fuel.(ABC Capricorn: Erin Semmler)

Why is it not already in use?

Prasad Kaparaju, associate professor at Griffith University’s School of Engineering and Built Environment, said Australia was “20 years behind in this area” but was catching up. delay.

“It’s amazing how much the attitude of industries has changed in particular, and also from a political point of view,” he said.

The Bioenergy Australia member worked in Finland, Denmark and France, where the industry was more advanced, before arriving in 2014.

Associate Professor Kaparaju wearing a blue button, a smiling black suit jacket, lab equipment and pipes behind.
Prasad Kaparaju, associate professor in the School of Engineering and Built Environment at Griffith University, has worked in the industry for decades.(Provided: Griffith University)

He said biogas would be essential, despite the goals of net zero and an expected increase in the use of electric vehicles.

“Biofuels will play an important role during this transition period,” he said.

“We need to develop a lot of infrastructure for electric vehicles [but] with biofuels, it is easy to integrate into existing infrastructure such as gas stations because it is only a liquid fuel. “

Dr Kaparaju said biofuels were “the immediate solution” to reducing the impact of greenhouse gases from the transport sector.

While passenger vehicles were already in the process of going electric, he said the aviation and freight sectors would be much slower, keeping demand for biofuels high.

Liquid flowing from a faucet into a funnel held by someone.
The project treats mixed solid waste by pyrolysis, distillation and hydrotreatment.(ABC Capricorn: Erin Semmler)

What happens next

Dr Islam received an Advance Queensland Industry Research Fellowship of $ 360,000 from the state government in November.

With $ 1.8 million from the cooperative research center projects, $ 500,000 from CQU, and additional funding from partners Northern Oil and RMIT University, the team will move into the next phase.

“During pilot testing, we found that the fuel quality is close to commercial or conventional diesel or gasoline,” Dr Islam said.

“But we still have no industry that will produce the amount of diesel and gasoline from solid waste at low cost that can also meet our national demand.”

Two jars, one with dark brown liquid labeled plastic diesel, another clear liquid labeled plastic diesel.
Professor Mohammed Rasul says it is the first project of its kind to reach this scale in Australia.(ABC Capricorn: Erin Semmler)

The researcher said the next step is to upgrade the technology to an industrial scale.

“We think we can put this fuel in diesel and gasoline cars [for testing] within six months to a year, ”said Dr Islam.

He said it would take at least three years for the biofuel to be available for purchase, but could be scaled up to meet half of Australia’s demand.

“Huge” potential for the economy and the environment

Prof Rasul said business success depended on funding and investor interest.

He said he would convert waste into revenue generating fuel with “almost zero emissions.”

“We are converting [landfill] in pyrolysis and it produces a significant amount of petroleum, which is 70 to 80 percent petroleum and once you refine it you get at least 50 to 60 percent petroleum, ”he said.

“This means that if you process a ton [of landfill waste], you will get 500 liters of oil.

“It’s a pretty good value, and it’s also millions of dollars, so in terms of the circular economy for Australia, I think it means huge things.”

Dr Islam in a yellow hat and high visibility orange shirt and Professor Mohammed in a buttoned light blue, both holding fuel cans.
Dr Mohammed Jahirul Islam, Professor Mohammed Rasul and Dr Ashfaque Chowdhury (not pictured) are the CQU team working on the project.(ABC Capricorn: Erin Semmler)

Mr Tabulo said it will create huge job opportunities.

“You have to get the oil to Gladstone, so you have logistics jobs that bring it in from all over Queensland, then you have the landfills that generate the crude,” he said.

“You’re talking about hundreds of jobs, if not more, thousands across the state.”

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