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Curtin research produces cost effective power sustainably

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Friday 13 August 2010

Curtin University researchers have made a breakthrough in converting biomass, such as mallee, into “clean” combustible gaseous fuels that can be used to generate a continuous source of electricity (base load electricity).

This innovative new technology has the potential to provide a sustainable and economical energy generation alternative, especially in regional and rural areas.

The technology, developed by Professor Chu-Zhu Li and his team from Curtin’s Centre for Advanced Energy Science and Engineering, was named the winner of the 2010 Curtin Commercial Innovation Awards announced on Friday 13 August.

The annual awards, run by Curtin’s Office of IP Commercialisation, acknowledge the best commercially-oriented innovations arising from research by Curtin staff and students.

Curtin’s Office of IP Commercialisation Director, Rohan McDougall, said the winning innovation was a great advance in sustainable energy generation.

“The gasifier that Professor Li and his team have developed is able to convert raw solid fuels like biomass into clean gaseous fuel in a highly efficient and economical manner,” Mr McDougall said.

“Numerous efforts have been made worldwide to clean up product gas from existing gasification processes in a cost effective way but with only limited success.

“Use of gasification product gas currently has limitations in electricity generation as tar and other contaminants foul up the gas engines and turbines. Curtin’s gasification technology is able to produce clean product gas with a high energy content.”

The process utilises mallee, abundant in WA and actively farmed to minimise dryland salinity.  Other low-rank fuels like lignite, brown coal and peat can also be converted.

“This technology will be particularly useful in the immediate future in rural and remote areas to replace the diesel engines that are currently being used,” Mr McDougall said.

“Unlike other renewable energy sources this process can be used to produce base load power and not just peak load so eventually when the technology is fully developed it can be used for clean and cost-effective generation of electricity in cities as well.”

A pilot scale gasifier (4kg/hr) has been built and operated successfully.  Professor Li is now working toward the construction of a demonstration plant at Curtin.

Curtin’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Research and Development, Professor Linda Kristjanson, commended the winning project.

“This work is an excellent example of the cutting edge research and innovation taking place at Curtin and a very deserving winner of the top prize in this year’s awards,” Professor Kristjanson said.

“Curtin staff and students have an excellent track record in conducting high level, industry-relevant research which can provide significant benefits to the community, with many of the projects offering real commercial potential.”

The other finalists who won prizes at the awards were:

•    Professor Peter Teunissen, an ARC Federation Fellow from the Department of Spatial Science at Curtin, was recognised for his next generation global positioning system.  It has improved 3-D positional accuracy, reduced convergence time and improved data integrity. His technology can open up a host of applications that were previously unattainable with existing systems, including precision agriculture, offshore positioning, land surveying, and emergency and military services.

•    Dr Fedja Hadzic and Dr Michael Hecker, Research Fellows from Curtin’s Digital Ecosystems Business Intelligence Institute, were awarded an early career prize for a software tool able to clean-up duplications and errors in corporate and government databases. The software can also detect the source of contamination and prevent future data pollution with business process mining.

Contact: Ann Marie Lim; Public Relations; Curtin; 08 9266 4241; 0401 103 532;

Note to Editor:

About Professor Chun-Zhu Li: Professor Chun-Zhu Li is a world leader in energy research. He took up the position of Director of the new Curtin Centre for Advanced Energy Science and Engineering in early 2009. Under Professor Li’s leadership, the Centre is developing novel low emission energy technologies, covering both fossil fuels and renewables.

About Curtin IP Commercialisation: Curtin established a pre-seed fund in 2005 and a follow-on fund in 2008, each with funding of up to $5 million. The funds are being applied to support early stage commercialisation of innovative new technologies developed at Curtin. The University has invested in 13 companies and a number of unincorporated opportunities. The investee companies are rapidly growing and employ over 80 people in new economy jobs and generate revenues in excess of $10 million per annum.

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