Clemson, Australian Universities to look at advanced biofuels

| June 30, 2011

In South Carolina and Queensland, Australia, researchers are hoping to push the boundaries of biofuels research. Through a memorandum of understanding, South Carolina-based Clemson University has partnered with the University of Queensland to further develop biofuels research, technology transfer, training and the eventual commercialization process for the research. The partnership happened in part, because of Peter D. Beattie, a special advisor for economic policy and development for Clemson. Beattie was formerly the premier of the state of Queensland. In a statement on the partnership, Beattie said that “this partnership…puts both universities at the forefront of future energy research.”

The scope of the research will range from cellulosic ethanol optimization to algae-based biodiesel production. The first area of research the universities will work on will be with switchgrass and sweet sorghum. Through the partnership, “Clemson will provide comprehensive access to information developed for conversion of sugar cane bagasse to ethanol.” The second area of research will involve the development of a pilot-scale sugar cane-to-ethanol process in Queensland. And, the last area of research will include work in cellulosic monomer conversion to biodiesel technology. Through the partnership, the two universities will work on a process to convert algae into biodiesel used for military, mining, industrial and personal transportation, according to the statement.

Clemson has already established a bench-scale process to convert switchgrass and sweet sorghum to ethanol, and has also looked into coastal loblolly pine. The bench-scale work was done in conjunction with Savannah River National Laboratory.

In addition to development of processes potentially used for biofuels production, Clemson’s vice president for economic development pointed out another positive  aspect of the partnership. The two universities “understand the importance of collaboration, both within an academic setting and in a corporate environment,” John Kelly, vice president for economic development said. “This exchange of information and ideas, coupled with a joint approach to external funding opportunities will be of enormous benefit to both states.” Kelly added that from an economic development standpoint, the partnership will bring rich rewards.

In addition to the research efforts, both schools will seek out funding from private and federal sources to help build the pilot-plants. “The development of clean fuels for the future is one of the most urgent challenges facing society due to the need to address climate change and secure fuel supplies,” said Paul Greenfield, vice chancellor of the University of Queensland.