This page belongs to: Action Plan for Critical Technologies

Biofuels

Solid, liquid or gas fuels produced from biological or organic sources. Examples include biogas and biodiesel derived from plant biomass, and bioethanol from crops such as corn and sugar cane.

Key sectors

  • Agriculture
  • Transport & Logistics
  • Defence & Defence Industry

Estimated impact on national interest

Economic Prosperity - Med
National Security - Med

Key Australian Government actions

Initiatives

  • Clean Energy Finance Corporation
  • Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) – projects
  • Modern Manufacturing Strategy – clean energy priority
  • Low emissions partnerships with Germany, Singapore, Japan and the United Kingdom
  • Quad clean energy partnership

Regulations

  • Fuel Quality Standards Act 2000
  • Renewable Energy (Electricity) Act 2000

Example outcomes

  • Reduced emissions from increased utilisation of alternative fuels
  • Improved supply chain resilience through increased local production of alternative liquid fuels
  • Reduced dependence on external strategic resources/materials and external supply chains
  • Diversified energy supply
  • Biomass waste generated from creation of biofuels is recycled and used in other industries (e.g., biodiesel residues used in compost or for animal feeding)
  • Vertical farming biomass as a way to convert electrical energy into liquid or gas biofuels for transportation
  • Increased agricultural productivity from higher value products particularly from declining-value products such as sugar

Underpinning science

ANZ Standard Research Classification Category

  • Agricultural biotechnology
  • Automotive engineering
  • Chemical engineering
  • Electrical engineering
  • Fluid mechanics and thermal engineering
  • Mechanical engineering
  • Physical chemistry
  • Electronics, sensors and digital hardware
  • Resources engineering and extractive metallurgy
  • Plant biology
  • Crop and pasture production
  • Food sciences
  • Environmental engineering
  • Environmental biotechnology

Example applications

Readiness Level – Now

  • Supplement/alternative to petrol and diesel fuels for transport
  • Power generation, including land-fill gas power plants
  • Heating for homes and businesses
  • Cleaning agent for oil spills and grease
  • Solvent for paint and adhesive removal
  • Engine lubricants

Readiness Level – 2–5 years

  • Expanded trials in the aviation industry
  • Biofuel cells for powering consumer electronics

Readiness Level – Beyond 5 years

  • Proliferation and significant use of biofuel in the aviation industry
  • Trials for maritime transportation, including biofuel-powered warships
  • High quality (group III) engine oils
  • Combined photoelectric and microbial fuel cells for increased power production
  • Sweat-powered wearables

Australia's place in the world

India has the highest research impact for biofuels and, along with Malaysia, has 3 institutes in the top 10 international institutions. Australia is ranked 10th, with 3 institutes in the top 50 international institutions. The United States has the highest amount of venture capital (VC) investment, well ahead of India (2nd) and Finland (3rd), with Australia unranked. China has the greatest number of patents for biofuels, with around 5 times the amount of the United States, which is ranked 2nd. Australia is ranked 23rd for patents internationally.

Currently, Australia has limited industrial production capability for biofuels, contributing to an insignificant portion of the market share. For example, domestic production of biodiesel is appropriately 1% of total domestic diesel consumption. Bioenergy (including biofuels) constituted 5% of total clean energy generated in Australia in 2020, equating to 1.4% of total energy generated in Australia. While Australia does not currently have domestic capability to produce aviation biofuel, Australian airlines have committed to increasing their use of biofuels on flights from 2020 onwards.

Opportunities and risks

Biofuels are a potential source of renewable energy. Although Australia’s biofuel industry is small, there are opportunities to leverage Australia’s existing capabilities in this industry, along with our expertise in agriculture, forestry and engineering to expand the domestic biofuel industry. Building capability and leveraging our existing expertise in agricultural production and arable land could increase Australia’s production of biofuels, in turn creating economic opportunities and employment for regional and rural areas, and expanding export opportunities. There is also significant potential to use less productive land to grow hardier or slower-growing biomass sources. Investment and proliferation of biofuel and bioenergy technologies and the growth of the industry may also achieve substantial socioeconomic and geopolitical benefits by lessening dependence on imported oil, gas and other strategic resources. Ample local supplies of alternative fuels such as biofuels will reduce the impact of international resource price fluctuations.

There is a risk that increased demand for biofuels may displace food production, particularly as several biofuel feedstock crops are also foodstuffs for humans and animals. Changing land use to grow biofuel feedstock, and biofuel processing practices, may each increase greenhouse emissions. As biofuel demand increases, nations may use production capabilities as a geostrategic asset. Attempts to undermine biofuel use or exports may create economic and strategic risks for Australia, particularly if Australia seeks to position itself as a key regional supplier.

Research impact (RI)

India has the highest research impact ahead of China and Malaysia, with Australia ranked 10th. Total volume of published research has increased at around 7% p.a. over the 5 year period 2016–2020, with 7% of research involving international collaboration.

  1. India - 27201
  2. China - 24118
  3. Malaysia - 12150
  4. USA - 9370
  5. Brazil - 9061
  1. Australia - 5691

The research impact provides an indication of the productivity of a country or institution. Here, productivity was assumed to be represented by the volume of publications (i.e. scholarly output) as an indicator of the resources & facilities, and the level of interest in the publications as an indicator of quality.

VC investment

Australia is unranked for venture capital (VC) investment in biofuels, and the United States has significantly greater investment than India and Finland. Globally VC investment into biofuels has increased by around 1% p.a. over the past 5 years.

  1. USA
  2. India
  3. Finland
  4. UK
  5. Kenya
  • (unranked) Australia

Data from Crunchbase. The Crunchbase database provides a partial view of the global VC landscape. However the quantity, quality and richness of the data are considered to be statistically significant, and indicative of global trends.

Patents - international

The highest number of patents in this technology were filed by applicants or inventors in China, with around 5 times the number of the 2nd ranked United States. Australia ranks 23rd. Overall patent applications have been decreasing at around 13% p.a. since 2015.

  1. China - 15652
  2. USA - 3019
  3. R. of Korea - 1717
  4. Japan - 1332
  5. Taiwan - 1008
  1. Australia - 69

Research institutions - international

India and Malaysia each have 3 institutes in the top 10 international institutions for research impact. China, Iran and Denmark make up the remainder of the top 10 international institutions.

Rank Top International Institution Research Impact
1 Anna University | India 5428
2 University of Malaya | Malaysia 3437
3 Chinese Academy of Sciences | China 2539
4 University of Tehran | Iran 2289
5 Technical University of Denmark | Denmark 1898
6 Sathyabama University | India 1837
7 Vel Tech University | India 1612
8 Tsinghua University | China 1602
9 University Malaysia Pahang | Malaysia 1563
10 Universiti Teknologi Malaysia | Malaysia 1511

Research institutions - Australia

Within Australia, the University of Technology Sydney has the highest research impact and is ranked 30th internationally. Internationally, Central Queensland University and the University of Queensland are ranked 33rd and 45th respectively.

Rank Top Australian Institution Research Impact
1 University of Technology Sydney 965
2 Central Queensland University 930
3 University of Queensland 764
4 Queensland University of Technology 560
5 University of New South Wales 525
6 University of Wollongong 425
7 Curtin University 419
8 Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University 397
9 University of Southern Queensland 343
10 Deakin University 222

Patents - Australia

Top 5 Australian Patent Applicants Patent Families
CSIRO 6
Microbiogen 5
Crucible Group 2
Environmental Engineers International 2
Herman Bio Energy International 2

Patents filed by Australian businesses, 2015–2019.