JOHN HAWKINS / 135805
REPLICATING NATURE Devon Woods, of Invercargill engineering firm B L Rayners Ltd, puts the finishing touches to the 6m paddles that form part of the MKII a machine that turns sewage algae into crude oil.
A Southern invention that turns sewage algae into crude oil is now operational but commercial testing of it is still three months away.
The machine, known as the MKII, replicates the way oil is created naturally by pressure and those working on the project say it is 10 years ahead of similar projects worldwide.
The oil produced can be refined into petrol, diesel and aviation fuel.
Invercargill engineering firm BL Rayners Ltd and Christchurch recycling company Solvent Rescue Ltd have collaborated under the name Solray to develop the machine, which has taken them 18 years to perfect.
Solvent Rescue owner Chris Bathurst said the MKII had been operating for the past four months after performing to expectation during its testing phase.
It was two to three months away from being used commercially at the Bromley oxidation ponds in Christchurch, he said.
"It's a high-risk project but we feel we're ahead of the game."
The machine left sewage water clean, while the algae absorbs carbon dioxide, making the technology appealing to councils and heavy polluters, Mr Bathurst said. Twelve councils had already made inquiries, he said.
BL Rayners engineer Chris Austin said several multinational corporations, including "world-leading" car and aviation manufacturers, had also expressed interest. He declined to name the interested parties.
"They've been shopping around for this kind of technology for a while now and one told us we were 10 years ahead of anything else worldwide." he said.
BL Rayners owner Wayne Harpur said most of the project's funding had come from private capital.
Solvent Rescue also received New Zealand Trade and Enterprise funding, he said.
Overseas interest in the project began to peak last year, when Mr Harpur and his associates began receiving invitations to international conferences on biofuels, he said. "The international interest in what we've put together has become quite significant, really."
Associate Professor Bob Lloyd, director of energy studies at Otago University, said biomass research was an encouraging area of research but was not likely to solve the world's oil crisis any time soon.
"It's difficult to see there is anything like the quantities of sewage around the world needed to make a large impact on the very large volume of crude oil we consume," he said.
Invercargill Green Party member Craig Carson said the technology may one day provide a path to falling oil prices that did not involve going through a recession.
"Southland could become the energy capital of the world without having to dig up all our cow fields to do it."
SEWAGE TO OIL
* The machine uses high pressure to turn algae, grown in sewage ponds, into algal sludge.
* The sludge is then processed using pressure, temperature, timing and a secret catalyst to turn it into crude oil.
* The crude oil can then be refined into jet fuel (kerosene), petrol, methane, LPG, diesel, or bitumen.
*The sewage pond water is left clean enough to be re-used by industry.
* The algae absorbs carbon dioxide.
* The process replicates how oil is created naturally, but much faster.
- The Southland Times