Renewable energy company AgBioEn has launched a $2 billion initiative turning agricultural waste into renewable diesel.

The company has partnered with La Trobe University and Microsoft partner LAB3 to run a series of trials using IoT sensors and devices to monitor the sustainable growth of high yield crops, in what it calls a “virtuous cycle”.

The waste from these sustainably grown crops will be processed using the company’s fuel manufacturing facility to generate “renewable diesel, bio-jet fuel, LPG, heat (for on-farm glasshouses), food grade liquified CO₂ and a soil nutrient that can be ploughed back to grow more crops”. 

Telemetry and drone data will be stored in Azure’s Cloud Edge Computing Platform, allowing researchers to draw insights from the company’s data analytics capabilities and dashboards. Drones can capture ten different parameters of data, including images of the crops, allowing farmers to determine their health, pest risk, diseases and soil moisture.

In the initial crop trial, more than 500 thousand real-time data sets were captured and provided to researchers.

(Source: AgBioEn)

According to La Trobe scientist Dr Jen Wood, “We observed positive crop responses in treatments that we did not predict to show improvements. Surprisingly the data from the soil probes — particularly plant soil water use at depth — have given us insight into below-ground processes that may be driving these responses.

According to Lubey Lozevski, program director for AgBioEn, “AgBioEn was looking for organisations with a strong IT presence and knowledge in the IoT space. LAB3 came up on our radar over two years ago and we have continually been discussing our project and planned crop trials and how to capture data that will help us complete our research to make improvements in crop performance.”

Lozevski claims that these insights are driving optimised farm management and have contributed to crop performance improvements of approximately 30 per cent. 

AgBioEn is working to generate sustainable and cost-effective fuel production, with the goal of generating fuels with 80 per cent lower emissions than fossil equivalents. 

According to Lozevski, “The fuel that we will create will be the same price as fossil fuel, yet it’s better performing. It’s about two to three per cent more efficient than fossil, so you actually get a better performance out of it. And then it gives you lower emissions as well.”

The company claims that Australians consume over 35 billion litres of diesel every year and approximately eight billion litres of jet fuel. Despite the fact that AgBioEn only currently plans to produce up to 150 million litres per site, across ten sites, the company plans on expanding globally to better address the need of reducing greenhouse emissions. 

According to Alain Blanchette, Director Data, IoT and AI at LAB3, “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.”

AgBioEn plans to invest $1.2 billion over the next four to five years in its Renewable Energy and Fuels Facility, and expects renewable fuel to be produced by 2023.

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