The emerging bioenergy industry could play a fundamental role in Australian agriculture meeting its $100 billion value by 2030 and also help New South Wales achieve its target of zero net emissions by 2050.
- Farmers could play a vital role in the supply of biomass, while also diversifying against drought
- A former coal-fired power station in the NSW Hunter Valley is ready to go green
- Byron Shire Council will use food waste to generate energy and fertiliser
As many farmers look to greener pastures after years of drought, researchers say planting native trees could set them up to fare better through the next big dry.
The NSW Department of Primary Industries and the CSIRO’s Australian Tree Seed Centre are now working to determine which natives are most efficient in biomass production, providing farmers with an additional source of income.
DPI research officer Fabiano Ximenes said biomass production could easily complement current farming enterprises.
“We’re really aiming for those species to be planted in marginal, unproductive areas of farms,” Dr Ximenes said.
“They have the potential to provide an additional income both via the sale of the fibre — for power generation, for instance — but also those trees will be eligible for carbon credits.”
The trees are selected for their drought and frost tolerance, and can also act as on-farm wind breaks and improve soils.
The 6,000 trees currently being planted at the DPI’s Tamworth Agricultural Institute will be harvested in three years’ time to assess the efficiency of the native species, which include silver wattle, green, blue and Durikai mallee, sugar gum, and river red gum.
Former coal-fired power plant ready to go green
Dr Ximenes said discussions with energy providers were already underway. One possible destination could be the mothballed Redbank Power Plant in the NSW Hunter Valley, which is preparing to be recommissioned to become Australia’s largest biomass power station.
“But it’s not the only application for those trees. Maybe the heat generation in boilers for hospitals and things like that or swimming pools … or bio-oil, biochar,” Dr Ximenes said.
Hunter Energy has taken over the Redbank plant, which has been in maintenance mode since the former coal-fired power station closed five years ago.
CEO Richard Poole said the 151-megawatt plant would be among the 10 largest in the world.
“It will generate around a million megawatts per annum. It’ll provide enough energy to power 200,000 to 250,000 houses,” Mr Poole said.
“The beauty of Redbank is that it’s obviously built so if we had our funding today, we could be employing people tomorrow and we could have this plant operating probably by December.
“It’ll deliver 800 to 900 jobs in the fuel supply line, it’ll deliver 60 jobs out at the plant, and about 265 jobs just while we’re in the recommissioning phase.
“As trees grow, they absorb the carbon dioxide. As they come down we burn that and release the carbon dioxide but it’s a closed cycle. So, in effect, you’re not adding additional carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Mr Poole said the plant would rely solely on biomass and the industry had huge potential.
“The International Energy Agency said Australia could easily be generating 25 to 33 per cent of its power from biomass by 2050, and currently it stands at about 1.6 per cent,” he said.
Food waste and landfill a big source of bioenergy in Byron
Bryon Shire Council has also been tapping into the new world of bioenergy.
It will harvest gas from the biosolids, food, and grease waste from Byron’s food service sector, diverting it away from landfill to produce up to 1 megawatt of bioenergy every year.
Project manager John Hart said there were lots of spin-offs for the local economy.
The project used an anaerobic process, one that broke down solids without oxygen.
The process is used extensively in Western Europe where they have a lot of intensive agriculture near residential developments.
“There’s the construction, operation and maintenance jobs and … it will improve the price of fertiliser for farmers as well to maintain healthy crops and fields,” Mr Hart said.