The Australian Renewable Energy Agency has announced that it will provide up to $4 million towards an $11.8 million pilot project by Southern Oil Refining to turn biosolids from sewage into crude oil.

The project involves building a demonstration scale hydrothermal liquefaction reactor, near Gladstone in Queensland, to produce the renewable crude oil from biosolids. The hydrothermal liquefaction will involve the treatment of the biosolids using a thermochemical conversion process to produce a biocrude.

The renewable crude oil will then be upgraded to diesel and potentially renewable jet fuel using Southern Oil Refining’s existing facilities that re-refine waste oils such as transmission and engine oils.

Southern Oil Refining has a first-of-its-kind biocrude and biofuel laboratory and testing facility at Gladstone as part of its advanced biofuel pilot plant.

The biosolids to be used are a byproduct of the treatment of wastewater. There are currently over 300,000 tonnes of biosolids produced annually through sewage treatment in Australia.

Southern Oil has partnered with Melbourne Water and the Gladstone pilot project will use stockpiled biosolids at Melbourne Water’s wastewater treatment facility at Werribee, Victoria as well as from a local sewage treatment facility.

The pilot project is the next step to possibly developing biosolid waste to renewable fuel plants at sewage treatment plants throughout Australia.