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Title:
METHODS AND PRODUCTS USING GRASS OF THE GENUS TRIODIA
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/2011/035368
Kind Code:
A1
Abstract:
According to this invention, plants of the genus Triodia are harvested for use as a renewable energy source or as a means of carbon sequestration. Triodia is a hummock-forming grass endemic to Australia, commonly known as spinifex. It is an abundant perennial plant which grows in semi-arid and arid regions. The novel use of Triodia as a biofuel feedstock has many advantages over the prior art. Being perennial, there is no need to plant and fertilise crops. The plants can be continuously harvested without damaging the soil. Triodia grows well with even small amounts of natural rainfall.

Inventors:
ARCHER, Michael (3 Flower St, Maroubra, NSW 2035, AU)
Application Number:
AU2010/001230
Publication Date:
March 31, 2011
Filing Date:
September 21, 2010
Export Citation:
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Assignee:
ECHIDNA ENERGY PTY LTD (10 Whitney Street, Mona Vale, NSW 2103, AU)
ARCHER, Michael (3 Flower St, Maroubra, NSW 2035, AU)
International Classes:
C10L5/44; A23K1/16; B01D5/00; B01D11/00; B01D17/00; C10L1/00; C12P7/08
Domestic Patent References:
2005-01-20
2008-09-18
Foreign References:
EP1857532A12007-11-21
US20090126433A12009-05-21
US6767375B12004-07-27
US20080149896A12008-06-26
US20080102502A12008-05-01
Other References:
'Bushfire Conference 2006, Paper No. XXX, Brisbane 6-9, June 2006', article BURROWS ET AL.: 'FUEL DYNAMICS AND FIRE BEHAVIOUR IN SPINIFEX GRASSLANDS OF THE WESTERN DESERT'
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Claims:
Claims

I. A method of providing renewable energy comprising the steps of harvesting grass of the genus Triodia and utilising said grass as fuel for an external combustion engine.

2. A method of providing renewable energy comprising the steps of harvesting grass of the genus Triodia and processing said harvested grass to produce fuel.

3. A method of providing renewable energy according to claim 2 wherein the processing, step comprises the step of mechanically pressing said Triodia to form it into solid fuel.

4. A method of providing renewable energy according to claim 2 wherein the processing step comprises the. steps of extracting lignin from said Triodia and

. forming said lignin into solid fuel.

5. A method of providing renewable energy according to claim 2 wherein the processing step comprises the step of pyrolysis of said Triodia to produce synthesis gas.

6. A method of providing renewable energy according to claim 2 wherein the processing step comprises the step of pyrolysis of said Triodia to produce bio- oil.

7. A method of providing renewable energy according to claim 2 wherein the processing step includes the sub-steps step of the Fischer-Tropsh process.

8. A method of producing bio-char comprising the steps bf harvesting plants of the genus Triodia and subjecting said plants to pyrolysis.

9. A method of providing renewable energy according to claim 2, wherein the said fuel is ethanol.

10. A method of providing renewable energy according to claim 9 wherein the processing step comprises the sub-steps of pretreatment to liberate cellulose and hemicellulose, hydrolysis of cellulose and hemicellulose, fermentation, and distillation to provide ethanol.

I I . A method of providing renewable energy according to claim 10 wherein the pretreatment step comprises one or more of steam explosion, mechanical treatment, chemical treatment.

12. A method of providing renewable energy according to claim 9 wherein the processing step comprises the sub-steps of hydrolysis by one or more of enzyme catalysis, acid catalysis, heat treatment or pressure treatment.

13. A method of providing renewable energy according to claim 9 wherein the processing step comprises the application of about 2% sulphuric acid at about 20°C for about 60 minutes.

14. A method of providing renewable energy according to claim 10 wherein the hydrolysis step is achieved using, approximately, the enzymes 2% cellulase and 4% β-glucosidase at 50°C, pH 5.0 stirred' at 180 rpm for 22 hours.

15. A method of providing renewable. energy according to claim 0 wherein the fermentation step is achieved using a recombinant strain of the bacterium Zymomonas mobilis ZM4 (pZB5), preferably for about 40-60 hours.

16. The method any of claims 2 -15 wherein the energy used in processing the Triodia feedstock is derived at least in part from solar energy.

17. A method of providing renewable energy according to any of claims 2 -15 wherein solar energy is used, at least in part, to generate steam which is used in processing the Triodia feedstock.

18. A gas production method comprising the steps of subjecting Triodia to termite gut protists and capturing the gas generated.

19. A gas production method according to claim 18 in which the gas is hydrogen.

20. A gas production method according to claim 8 in which the gas is methane.

2 . A method of obtaining volatile fractions from plants of the genus Triodia

comprising the steps of heating all or part of a Triodia plant and collecting volatile fractions exuded.

22. The method of claim 21 in which the heating step heats the plant matter to approximately 100 degrees centigrade.

23. The method of claim 21 in which the collected volatiles are organic polymers.

24. The method of claim 21 in which the collected volatiles are used for the

manufacture of one or more of incense, aromatic enhancer, furniture polish, biopharmaceuticals, bactericides, fungicides, insecticides, antibiotics or medicine.

25. The method of claim 21 in which the exuded volatiles are allowed to solidify and are collected mechanically.

26. The method of claim 21 in which the exuded fractions are collected by .fractional distillation.

27. An ethanol production method comprising the steps of gasification of Triodia, fermentation and distillation.

28. An ethanol production method according to claim 27 in which the fermentation step uses microorganisms to ingest the products of gasification and produce ethanol.

29. An ethanol production method according to claim 28 in which the

microorganism is Clostridium ljungdahlii bacteria or similar bacteria.

30. An ethanol production method comprising the step of using bacteria to

convert Triodia directly into ethanol.

31 . An ethanol production method according to claim 30 in- which the bacteria are Clostridium thermocellum or similar bacteria. .

32. The method of any of claims 1-31 comprising the further substep of removing resin from the Triodia,

33. The method of any of claims 1-31 in which the energy used in carrying out the steps of the invention is derived at least in part from said Triodia.

34. A method of harvesting elements comprising the steps of harvesting grass of the genus Triodia and processing said grass to extract the desired elements.

35. The harvesting method of claim 34 In which the elements are metals.

36. A carbon sequestration method comprising the steps of harvesting grass of the genus Triodia, creating bio-char from said grass and storing it.

37. The method of any of claims 1-36 in which the step of harvesting Triodia preserves the plants' root system so that the plant regrows.

38. The method of any of claims 1 -36 in which the step of harvesting Triodia is performed so that firebreaks are produced.

39. The method of any of claims 1 -36 in which the step of harvesting Triodia is performed according to the expected regrowth rate so that the Triodia can be sustainably harvested.

40. A method of producing animal fodder comprising the steps of harvesting and processing plants of the genus Triodia.

41 . The method of claim 40 in which the processing step removes the sharp point of the Triodia.

42. A renewable energy generator comprising an external combustion engine powered by grass of the genus Triodia coupled to an electric generator.

43. Solid fuel comprising mechanically densified grass of the genus Triodia.

44. A renewable fuel generator comprising a gasifier adapted to produce

synthesis gas from grass of the genus Triodia.

45. A renewable fuel generator comprising pyrolysis' means adapted to produce bio-oil from grass of the genus Triodia.

46. A renewable fuel generator comprising pyrolysis means adapted to produce gas from grass of the genus Triodia and means for producing bio-fuel from said gas using the Fischer-Tropsh process.

47. Bio-char made by harvesting plants of the genus Triodia and subjecting said plants to pyrolysis.

48. Ethanol production means comprising means for pretreating plants of the genus Triodia to liberate cellulose and hemicellulose, hydrolysis of cellulose and hemicellulose, fermentation and distillation.

49. Ethanol production means according to claim 48 wherein the pretreatment means performs one or more of steam explosion, mechanical treatment, chemical treatment.

50. Ethanol production means according to claim 48 comprising means for

hydrolysis by one or more of enzyme catalysis, acid catalysis, heat treatment or pressure treatment.

5 . Ethanol production means according to claim 48 comprising means for

application of about 2% sulphuric acid at about 120°C for about 60 minutes.

52. Ethanol production means according to claim 48 comprising means for

performing hydrolysis using, approximately, the enzymes 2% cellulase and 4% β-glucosidase at 50°C, pH 5.0 stirred at 180 rpm for 22 hours.

53. Ethanol production means according to claim 48 comprising means for

performing fermentation using a recombinant strain of the bacterium

Zymomonas mobilis ZM4 (pZB5), preferably for about 40-60 hours.

54. Renewable energy means according to any of claims 42-53 wherein the

energy consumed by its operation is derived at least in part from solar energy.

55. Renewable energy means according to any of claims 42-53 wherein solar energy is used, at least in part, to generate steam which is used in processing the Triodia feedstock.

56. Gas production means adapted to subject Triodia to termite gut protists and capture the gas generated.

57. Gas production means according to claim 56 in which the gas is hydrogen.

58. Gas production means according to claim 56 in which the gas is methane.

59. Means for extracting volatile fractions from plants of the genus Triodia

adapted to heat all or part of a Triodia plant and collect volatile fractions exuded.

60. The means of claim 59 in which the heating step heats the plants matter to approximately 100 degrees centigrade.

61. The means of claim 59 in which the collected volatiles are organic polymers.

62. The means of claim 59 in which the collected volatiles are used for the

manufacture of one or more of incense, aromatic enhancer, furniture polish, . biopharmaceuticals, bactericides, fungicides, insecticides, antibiotics or medicine.

' 63. The means of claim 59 in which the exuded volatiles are allowed to solidify and are collected mechanically.

64. The means of claim 59 in which the exuded fractions are collected by

fractional distillation.

65. Ethanol production means comprising means for gasification of Triodia, means for fermentation and means for distillation.

66. Ethanol production means according to claim 65 in which the fermentation step uses microorganisms to ingest the products of gasification and produce ethanol and water. ' .

67. Ethanol production means according to claim 66 in which the microorganism is Clostridium ljungdahlii bacteria or similar bacteria.

68. Ethanol production means adapted to use bacteria to convert Triodia directly into ethanol.

69. Ethanol production means according to claim 68 in which the bacteria are Clostridium thermocellum or similar bacteria.

70. The invention of any of claims 42-69 further comprising means for removing ' resin from the Triodia.

71. The invention of any of claims 42-69 in which the energy consumed by the invention is derived at least in part from said Triodia.

72. Means for harvesting elements comprising means for harvesting grass of the genus Triodia and means for processing said grass to extract the desired elements.

73. The harvesting method of claim 72 in which the elements are metals.

74. Animal fodder produced by harvesting and processing plants of the genus Triodia.

75. The animal fodder of claim 74 in which the processing step removes the sharp point of the Triodia.

76. Incense made by heating all or part of a Triodia plant and collecting volatile fractions exuded.

77. Aromatic enhancer made by heating all or part of a Triodia plant and

collecting volatile fractions exuded.

78. Furniture polish made by heating all or part of a Triodia plant and collecting volatile fractions exuded.

79. Biopharmaceuticals made by heating all or part of a Triodia plant and

collecting volatile fractions exuded.

80. Bactericides made by heating all or part of a Triodia plant and collecting volatile fractions exuded.

81. Fungicides made by heating all or part of a Triodia plant and collecting volatile fractions exuded.

82. Insecticides made by heating all or part of a Triodia plant and collecting

volatile fractions exuded.

83. Antibiotics made by heating all or part of a Triodia plant and collecting volatile fractions exuded.

84. Medicine made by heating all or part of a Triodia plant and collecting volatile fractions exuded. · .

85. Any of the inventions of claims 76-84 in which the plant matter is heated to approximately 100 degrees centigrade.

Description:
Methods and products using grass of the genus Triodia

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

The present invention relates to methods and products using grass of the genus Triodia systems, for example for generating energy using the plant as a feedstock.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

Systems for using plant matter as an energy source are well known. In the simplest case, biomass can be burned to release energy.

First-generation biofuels are made from sugar, starch or vegetable oil. The basic feedstocks for the production of first generation biofuels are typically seeds or grains such as wheat, which yield starch that is fermented into bioethanol. This process is of limited value for many reasons. For example, the feedstock could otherwise be used as food, and the energy consumed in cultivating it might in some cases exceed the energy recoverable from the biofuel produced.

Second generation biofuel processes use biomass consisting of the residual nonfood parts of current crops or non food crops, such as switchgrass, jatropha, cereals that bear little grain, and also industry waste such as wood chips. In the second generation process the plant's cellulose must be broken down to release the sugar which is then fermented to produce ethanol in the same way as first generation bioethanol production. The plant's remaining lignin can be burned as a carbon- neutral fuel to produce energy.

Second generation biofuels have been criticised because of the use of large scale agriculture to provide the feedstock, possible adverse effects on land, use of fertilisers and pesticides, risks posed by genetically engineering crops, consumption of large amounts of energy for processing and so on.

Energy can also be extracted from plant matter by pyroiysis and gasification, that is, heating under controlled conditions to produce combustible synthesis gas and oil which can be burnt or used for other purposes. Pyroiysis also produces a carbon-rich residue known as bio-char, which can be used as a soil enhancer. Bio-char also sequesters carbon for long periods, potentially thousands of years, as it is an extremely stable form of carbon. SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

The present invention provides a system for utilising plants of the genus Triodia as an energy source. Triodia is a hummock-forming grass endemic to Australia, commonly known as spinifex. It is an abundant perennial plant which grows in semi- arid and arid regions.

It is an object of this invention to provide a system for supplying renewable energy which does not consume plants which would otherwise provide food.

It is also an object of this invention to provide a system for providing renewable feedstocks for production of energy which requires significantly less energy and resource input than prior art biofuel systems.

It is also an object of this invention to provide a low-carbon-output system for extracting energy from renewable feedstocks.

According to one aspect of the present invention, there is provided a system for producing energy which utilises grass of the genus Triodia as fuel for an external combustion engine. For example, in some embodiments of this invention Triodia is harvested and burned to produce steam to power a turbine which drives an electrical generator.

In another aspect, the present invention provides a biofuel process which utilises grass of the genus Triodia as a feedstock.

In another aspect, the present invention provides a biofuel production method comprising the steps of harvesting Triodia and mechanically processing it to form solid fuel suitable for burning. Examples of suitable mechanical processes include grinding, chopping, pulverising, drying, pressing, compacting, pelletising and so on. In some embodiments of the invention according to this aspect; resins present in the Triodia help bind fibres together when the Triodia is compacted. In other

embodiments, finely pulverised Triodia mixed with air or oxygen can be used as a fuel or explosive.

In another aspect, the present invention provides a biofuel production method comprising the steps of harvesting Triodia, pretreatment to liberate cellulose and hemicellulose, hydrolysis of cellulose and hemicellulose, fermentation, and distillation to provide ethanol. Some embodiments of the invention further comprise the step of lignin separation. In some embodiments of the invention, the pretreatment step comprises steam explosion. In other embodiments, the pretreatment step comprises mechanical treatment. In yet other embodiments, the pretreatment step comprises chemical treatment. In other embodiments, the pretreatment step comprises a ■ combination of different treatments.

In some embodiments of the invention, hydrolysis is catalysed by enzymes. In other embodiments hydrolysis is catalysed using an acid. In some embodiments hydrolysis is assisted by use of heat, pressure or both.

In another aspect, the present invention provides a biofuel production method comprising the steps of harvesting Triodia, pretreatment to liberate cellulose and hemice!lulose, and conversion of cellulose and/or hemicellulose to ethanol using suitable micro-organisms. Some embodiments of the invention further comprise the step of lignin separation.

In one embodiment of the invention, the pretreatment step includes utilising an acid, for example 2% sulphuric acid at about 120°C for about 60 minutes. In one embodiment of the invention, the hydrolysis step is achieved using, approximately, the enzymes 2% cellulase and 4% β-glucosidase at 50°C, pH 5.0 stirred at 180 rpm for 22 hours.

In one embodiment of the invention, the fermentation step is achieved using a recombinant strain of the bacterium Zymomonas mobills ZM4 (pZB5), preferably for about 40-60 hours.

According to another aspect of the invention, the energy used in processing the Triodia feedstock is derived at least in part from solar energy. For example, pretreatment by steam explosion can be achieved using solar energy to produce the required steam.

In yet another aspect, the present invention provides a synthesis gas (carbon monoxide and hydrogen) production method' comprising the steps of harvesting Triodia and gasification. Gasification can for example be accomplished by steam gasification or partial pyrolysis under sub-stoichiometric, high temperature conditions. The invention in the foregoing aspect can be further extended to. produce liquid hydrocarbons such as diesel fuel from Triodia feedstock, for example by including the further steps of the Fischer-Tropsch process. In yet another aspect the invention provides a bio-oil production method comprising the steps of subjecting Triodia to pyrolysis. Preferably, anyhydrous fast pyrolysis can be used.

In another aspect the invention provides, a gas production method comprising the steps of feeding Triodia to termites and capturing the gas emitted by the termites. In one embodiment of the invention, the gas captured is hydrogen. In another embodiment the gas captured is methane.

In yet another aspect the invention provides a gas production method comprising the steps of subjecting Triodia to termite gut protists and capturing the gas emitted by the protists. In one embodiment of the invention, the gas captured is hydrogen. In another embodiment the gas captured is methane.

In another aspect, the invention provides a system for obtaining volatile chemicals from Triodia comprising the steps of heating all or part of a Triodia plant and collecting volatile chemicals exuded. In some cases, material exuded sets to hard lumps after cooling and can be mechanically separated from the plant. It has been found by experiment that, for example, heating to approximately 100°C useful organic polymers are exuded from certain species of Triodia. It has been found that such polymers in some cases are similar to Sandrac, Rosin and Copal. Accordingly, the present invention provides a method of using Triodia as a source of furniture polish, for example as an alternative to shellac or Tung oil, for the manufacture of incense, aromatic enhancers, or for medicinal uses. In a further extension of the inventive concept, chemical exudates are fractionated to produce a range of volatile substances that have uses as biopharmaceiiticals, bactericides, fungicides, insecticides, antibiotics, aromatic enhancers and so on. For example, very few animals eat Triodia in the wild other than termites due in part to " chemicals in Triodia that act as deterrents to herbivory.

In yet another aspect, the present invention provides an ethanol production method comprising the steps of gasification of Triodia, fermentation and distillation.

Fermentation can be achieved, for example, by use of suitable microorganisms such as Clostridium ljungdahlii bacteria which ingest the products of gasification and produce ethanol and water. In yet another aspect, the present invention provides an ethanol production method in which the cellulose of Triodia is converted directly into ethanol using suitable bacteria, for example Clostridium thermoce!lum.

In yet another aspect, the invention further comprises the step of separating any resin which may be present, depending on the species of Triodia. For example, some species of Triodia have a high resin content and in an embodiment of the invention in which Triodia is pressed into pellets for fuel, the invention can include the step of separating the resin so that the amount of resin in the pellets is minimised. The separated resin can of course be used for other purposes.

According to another aspect of the invention, the energy used in processing the Triodia feedstock is derived at least in part from the products of the process, for example by burning the extracted lignin or the produced gas or ethanol. In another aspect the invention provides a system for harvesting elements such as metals comprising the steps of harvesting Triodia and processing it to extract the desired-elements or metals.

In yet another aspect, the invention provides a method of creating bio-char from Triodia. In some embodiments of this aspect of the invention, Triodia is subjected to pyrolysis. In other embodiments of this aspect of the invention, Triodia is subjected to gasification. Heating for pyrolysis or gasification can be accomplished by any of the well-known methods including solar heating, either directly or via a medium such as ' steam or fluid.

. In yet another aspect, the invention provides a method of carbon sequestration comprising the steps of creating bio-char from Triodia and storing it. In some embodiments of this aspect of the invention, the storage step comprises burying the bio-char underground. In other embodiments, bio-char is simply stockpiled; for example entire valleys can be filled, providing enormous carbon sinks. In yet other embodiments the bio-char is mixed with soil. Studies have shown that addition of bio- char to soil has many benefits, including carbon sequestration, water retention, crop enhancement and so on.

The invention also consists in combinations of the foregoing aspects, for example systems which convert Triodia into both bio-char and ethanol or other bio-fuel.

.

The invention can be further adapted to improve energy efficiency by use of solar energy as the energy source for endothermic reactions of the inventive process.

In another aspect, the invention provides a method of maximising the storage of carbon in the soil in which Triodia grows using harvesting techniques which maximise survival of the basal clump of the plants. According to this aspect minimum damage is done to the plant's root system so that its ability to transfer carbon to the soil is maximised. The inventive concept can also be applied to conversion of Triodia to animal fodder, optionally in addition to fuel. For example, in one embodiment of the. invention, Triodia is pelletised and used as animal feed. In other variations of this inventive concept, other substances are added to the Triodia to improve its digestibility, palatability, nutritional value and so on as required by particular animals to be fed.

In another aspect, the invention provides a system of producing fodder comprising the steps of harvesting Triodia and mechanically processing it to render it edible. For example, the processing step can comprise the step of removing sharp points of the Triodia leaves.

The invention also consists in apparatus adapted to perform the steps of the invention described herein.

DESCRIPTION OF PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS

, Embodiments of the invention will now be described with reference to the drawings in whiclr

Fig. 1 is a block diagram of an embodiment of the present invention in which Triodia is converted into fuel pellets;

Fig. 2 is a block diagram of an embodiment of the present invention in which Triodia is used to generate electricity and bio-oil;

Fig. 3 is a block diagram of an embodiment of the present invention in which Triodia is used to generate electricity, ethanol and lignin briquettes; and

Fig. 4 is a block diagram of an embodiment of the present invention in which Triodia is used to create bio-char.

Referring now to Fig. 1 , Triodia plants (1 ) are first harvested and dried (2). In this embodiment solar energy is used for drying, to maximise the carbon footprint of the process, although any other method can be used with good results. Moisture content is typically reduced to 10%- 5%. ·

Solar energy is also collected by collector (4) which is used to power solar engine (5), which can, for example, be an external-combustion Stirling engine or a boiler/steam turbine combination. Solar engine (5) provides motive power for the other

components of the system through suitable mechanical couplings.

The dried Triodia enters mill (6) which- reduces the grass to small particles, for example 3 mm or less. The milled product (7) then passes to press (8) which is typically a ring die pellet press, which squeezes the milled product (7) through small openings, typically 4-8 mm, in a die. The pressure causes the temperature of the lignin content of the Triodia to rise to the degree that it plasticises slightly. The pellets are ejected from press (8) into bin (9) and when they cool, the plasticised lignin binds the particles of the pellet. In some embodiments of the invention apparatus is also provided to manage the cooling of the pellets. Fig. 2 illustrates the process of converting Triodia into char (also known as biochar), bio-oil and electricity, using pyrolysis,

Triodia (21 ) is harvested and fed into dryer (22), which is typically a tumbler which can be heated by concentrated solar energy, by burning the products of the invention or a combination of sources.

Grinder (29) chops or grinds the Triodia to smaller particles, facilitating the subsequent process. Pyrolysis reactor (23) heats the Triodia particles in the absence of oxygen. Char collected (27) can be used as a soil improver, fuel, or for carbon sequestration. Other fluid products are fed from pyrolysis reactor 23 to cooler 24, where bio-oil (31 ) is condensed and separated from synthesis gas (30)

The relative, amounts of char, oil and gas produced by pyrolysis reactor (23) can be controlled by the conditions within the reactor. To achieve the objective of maximum energy yield for minimum carbon release, the process can be optimised to maximise the char residue.

Representative yields resulting from different parameters are summarised In the following table (Source: Aston University Bio-Energy Research Group, RenuResin Kick-off meeting, 27-28 January 2003);

In this embodiment of the invention, syngas (30) is used to power gas engine (25) " which ' provides the motive power for the processing plant. This engine also drives electric generator (25) which can be used as a source of electricity for the plant or elsewhere.

Bio-oil (31 ) is collected and can be used for purposes such as heating. Some of the syngas or bio-oil can be used to provide the process heat required. Solar energy can also be used for process heating.

Fig. 3 illustrates the process of converting Triodia into ethanol, electricity and solid fuel (lignin briquettes). In this embodiment, Triodia (41 ) is chopped or ground by grinder (42), which may for example comprise a hammer mill. The ground Triodia is then subjected to pre-tfeatment (43) which liberates the cellulose and hemicellulose from the plant matter. In the embodiment of the invention of Fig 3, pre-treatment (43) comprises sugar extraction using, approximately, 2% sulphuric acid at 20°C for 60 minutes.

The pre-treated product is then subjected to hydrolysis (45) where enzymes (44) are used to break the cellulose and the hemi-cellulose down (hydrolysed) into sugars.

Lignin is separated from the hydrolysate and after pressing (51 ) is collected by lignin briquette bin (52). The sugars of the hydrolysate undergo fermentation (46) through the action of fermentation agent (54).

Effective practise of hydrolysis (45) in this embodiment of the invention has been achieved using the enzymes 2% celluiase and 4% β-glucosidase at 50°C, pH 5.0 and 180 rpm for about 22 hours.

This embodiment of the invention has experimentally been found to produce 70-85% sugar recovery from Triodia., ·

Effective fermentation in this embodiment of theinvention has been achieved using for the fermentation agent (54) a recombinant strain of the bacterium Zymomonas mobi!is ZM4 (pZB5) for 40-60 hours. Zymomonas mobilis degrades sugars to pyruvate using the Entner-Doudoroff pathway. The pyruvate is then fermentated to produce ethanol and carbon dioxide as the only products.

The water/ethanol fermentation product is separated by fractional distillation (47). Some of the resulting ethanol is used to fuel engine (49), which provides the motive power for the processing plant, and the remainder is taken off as ethanol (48) for use as a fuel additive or other purpose. Heat required by the process (for example distillation) is preferably provided by solar power, but can of course be provided by burning some of the produced ethanol or lignin.

This embodiment of the invention has experimentally been found to yield about 17-21 g/L ethanol, showing that the Triodia hydrolysate.is attractive for biofuel production.

Fig. 4 is a block diagram of an embodiment of the present invention in which Triodia is used to create bio-char, which has many uses for example as a solid fuel, to improve soil quality, or for carbon. sequestration etc.

The system of Fig 4 is designed to be simple and require minimal external energy or material inputs. In this embodiment, Triodia (61) is mowed and the resulting chopped plant matter is fed into one end of a long drum (65). The drum is metallic and designed for maximum solar energy absorption, for example a steel drum with a dull black finish. Drum (65) is fixed inside evacuated tube (63) which is partly or completely transparent. The space between drum (65) and evacuated tube (63) is, as far as practical, evacuated so that heat conduction from drum (65) to the environment is minimised. Energy from the sun (60) is focussed on drum (65) by solar

concentrators (64) resulting in heating. Drum (65) and evacuated tube (63) are rotated by suitable means, preferably solar powered.

Drum (65) performs as a pyrolysis kiln, and is accordingly adapted using well-known techniques to minimise oxygen entry and to cause the contents to travel from the entry end to the exit end. In this embodiment of the invention, chopped Triodia from mower (62) enters drum (65) from one end and is tumbled and heated to about 400- 500°C and travels slowly along the length of drum (65) before exiting, typically many hours later, as char Into char receptacle (66).

This embodiment of the invention can be further extended to include means for capturing gas or liquid pyrolysis products which can be utilised in well-known ways.

Whereas some exemplary embodiments of the invention are described above, it will be understood that many variations can be made without departing from the scope of the invention.

For example, the harvesting of Triodia, referred to herein as a step of the inventive process, can include any method of removing Triodia from its growing environment. In most cases it is preferable that damage to the plant be minimised so that the leaves can regrow easily, to which end suitable mowing and gathering equipment ' can be applied. It will also be understood that it will be preferable in many cases that not all Triodia in a given area be removed, to minimise environmental damage and to maintain sufficient habitat for fauna. It is also environmentally beneficial to harvest the Triodia using a pattern which maintains firebreaks. For example, breaks 50 metres wide every 500 metres help limit the extent of fire in the event of man-made or natural fire.

It is also desirable for sustainability that the amount of Triodia harvested be controlled so that it is not removed faster than it can regrow. For example, in a region where Triodia typically takes 5 years to reach maturity, harvesting 20% of the population per annum will result in resource sustainability. The harvesting strategy can achieve both fire control and sustainability, for example by harvesting in a chequerboard pattern, harvesting say 50 metre strips perpendicularly every 250 metres.