Australia-based renewable energy company AgBioEn is leading a AU$2 billion initiative to turn agricultural waste into renewable fuels with a series of on-farm trials.
The company intends to develop a process in which high-yield crops are grown sustainably. The waste from these crops will then be used to provide renewable diesel, bio-jet fuel, liquefied petroleum gas, heat, food-grade liquified carbon dioxide and a soil nutrient that can be ploughed back to grow more crops.
“We want to grow more food for the world in a smaller parcel of land,” said Lubey Lozevski, programme director for AgBioEn. “Then, as a by-product, we get the biomass to create renewable energy and fuels, which are more efficient than fossil and also reduce the carbon emissions. In a 12-month period, once we’re in full production, we’ll save anywhere up to 500,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per annum compared to fossil fuels.”
AgBioEn is currently working with La Trobe University and Microsoft partner LAB3 to run a series of tests, which will involve growing different crops under different conditions. LAB3 will provide artificial intelligence (AI) and analytics across the supply chain including the farms, the renewable energy and fuels facility and all the logistics. This will eventually integrate internet of thing (IoT) data as well as information from operational technology and supervisory control and data acquisition systems. Sensors and devices will monitor the health and growth of the crops with telemetry and drone data held in an Azure Cloud Edge Computing Platform.
The data will provide information about water gains, storage capacity and losses in the root zone, which are important in improving water use efficiency in cropping soils. Crop improvements of around 30 per cent have already been recorded as a result of the trial.
“This is one of the most fascinating programs of work we have ever been involved with and promises multiple layers of benefit – all the way from farm to fuel,” said Alain Blanchette, director of data, IoT and artificial intelligence at LAB3. “We have leveraged the broad Azure ecosystem and a range of advanced IoT and cognitive services to build a platform that will grow with AgBioEn as it expands into fuel production and explores exciting national and international opportunities.”
Crop trials will continue for the next three to four years, while AgBioEn will complete the design of its fuel manufacturing facility this year, with construction scheduled to start early next year with fuel produced from 2023.
“It’s growing food, green energy, and lower emissions for climate change – all powered by data and AI,” said Lozevski.