Bioenergy is energy derived from plants, animals, and their by-products and residues. It is the only renewable source that can replace fossil fuels in all energy markets – in the production of heat, electricity and fuels for transport. As the peak body representing Australia’s bioenergy sector, Bioenergy Australia is working hard to increase awareness of bioenergy as a sustainable energy solution and an essential component in reaching carbon neutrality by 2050.

Agriculture, farming, human habitation and forestry generate crop waste and remains, manures and sludges, rendered animal fats, used oils, and timber residues.

These products are known collectively as biomass, which can be converted into bioenergy to provide power for our cities and industries, liquid biofuel for our planes and automobiles and biogas which can heat our showers, and warm and cool our homes.

Shahana McKenzie, CEO of Bioenergy Australia, said that the national industry association is committed to accelerating Australia’s bio economy.

“Our mission is to foster the bioenergy sector to generate jobs, secure investment, maximise the value of local resources, minimise waste and environmental impact, and develop and promote national bioenergy expertise into international markets,” Ms McKenzie said.

“We support the growth and competitiveness of the bioenergy sector in the following ways:

  • Advocating – with our members, we anticipate and develop leading positions on issues of concern to the advancement and growth of bioenergy in Australia
  • Campaigning – we raise the profile of the industry within the media and broader community to achieve a greater level of understanding about bioenergy and the vital role it must play to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050
  • Informing – we publish reports, webinars and articles to help our members keep ahead of industry trends and opportunities
  • Connecting – we facilitate knowledge exchange and networking for members through task-specific meetings, our annual conference and webinars. We link investors with emerging businesses; researchers with technology developers; government with innovators

“We also administer Australia’s participation in the International Energy Agency (IEA) Bioenergy organisation, and our industry groups bring together specialists in specific fields.”

In November 2019, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) announced that its board had agreed to a request from the Federal Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction, Angus Taylor, to invest in the development of a roadmap to identify the role that the bioenergy sector can play in Australia’s energy transition.

The Bioenergy Roadmap will help to inform the next series of investment and policy decisions in the bioenergy sector in Australia, and will be an important input into the Federal Government’s Technology Investment Roadmap.

The Bioenergy Roadmap also has the potential to help capitalise on opportunities to enhance Australia’s energy security and help it meet its emission reduction obligations.

Stakeholders in Australia’s bioenergy sector, including businesses, research groups, industry associations, community groups and individuals, were all invited to submit their input on the development of the Bioenergy Roadmap before 29 May 2020.

Ms McKenzie said that the roadmap will identify how Australia can leverage the significant and multi-faceted opportunity bioenergy presents – with the potential to attract a minimum of $3.5-5 billion in investment, mostly in regional economies.

“It presents a significant opportunity for Australia to invest in developing domestic industries such as the bioenergy sector for significant and sustained job creation, and economic stimulus, while also boosting our self-sufficiency in fuel, gas and energy and other key industries – for example, in the production of high-value products and chemicals such as medical-grade ethanol used in hand sanitiser.”

Developing policy that supports a path forward for bioenergy

Bioenergy Australia welcomes the development of the Bioenergy Roadmap and as part of its submission, has recommended two key mechanisms to support the development of bioenergy in Australia – a national Clean Futures Target and a market-based Bio Industries Fund.

Ms McKenzie said that the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted supply chain vulnerabilities and demonstrated that things we thought impossible are indeed possible.

“We have been presented with an unprecedented opportunity to develop our economy and create a better Australia for the future. This is a significant opportunity for our government to show strategic leadership and deliver meaningful outcomes for our nation,” Ms McKenzie said.

A Clean Futures Target would embody the opportunity for decarbonisation of the national transport, gas and heat sectors. Such a program would deploy a similar approach to the Renewable Energy Target which was highly successful in supporting decarbonisation of the electricity sector.

The proposal would be to implement:

  1. A Clean Fuels Target with a 10 per cent reduction in transport-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions relative to 2020 levels by 2030, with individual annual and fuel type targets to be set after appropriate modelling
  2. A Renewable Heat Target which recommends that the use of renewable biomass should extend to the generation of heat energy (e.g. process steam for drying in papermaking or sawmills) as well as electrical energy
  3. A Green Gas Target which would establish a near-term aspirational target for cost-effective renewable gas injection into the gas networks by 2030
  4. A Net Zero Organic-to-Landfill Target where instead of being disposed to landfill, organic waste would be collected and converted into higher-value products, such as biogas or biomethane, pyrolysis gas and biochar
  5. Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF)/Climate Solutions Fund (CSF) Jobs Target where there is the potential to make minor amendments to the existing and already funded ERF/CSF program to unlock many bioenergy and circular economy projects and jobs

“In addition to the Clean Futures Target, the Bio Industries Fund would align to the outcomes of the Federal Government Bioenergy Roadmap and would ensure that projects can progress immediately.

There are a range of ways the fund could be created and delivered, and we would welcome the opportunity to discuss this further with the government,” Ms McKenzie said.

The development of an Australian Bio Industries Fund would provide opportunities for bioenergy support in the following areas:

  • Upgrading existing facilities to increase productivity, reduce costs or emerge into new industries
  • Undertaking feasibility assessments for converting low-value residues into new energy products under a circular economy approach
  • Undertaking new project development of replicable low-cost, high-value projects such as anaerobic digesters for local councils, food and agriculture processing facilities and wastewater treatment

Jandakot bioenergy plant, western australia. Credit: Delorean energy.

The importance of transitioning to a circular economy

Ms McKenzie said that effective utilisation of organic waste to produce energy can play a central role in the national transition to a circular, low-carbon economy.

“As the world population grows and new industrial and developed areas expand, both in absolute and relative terms, the linear economy will move towards constraint of supply of materials, including food,” Ms McKenzie said.

“This may lead to economic hardship, human suffering and conflict. A circular economy is restorative and regenerative by design, and aims to keep products, components and materials at their highest utility and value, at all times.

“A bio economy is circular by nature as it regenerates CO2 and encompasses the conversion of renewable biological resources into high-value products and chemical building blocks, fuels, power and heating via mature or innovative technologies.

“Therefore, a bio economy can significantly contribute to the circular economy by being a supplier of renewable energy (primary sources + side streams), materials that can be well cascaded (wood, fibres) and even feedstock for plastics.”

In June 2020, Bioenergy Australia delivered an open letter to the Federal Government, signed on behalf of thousands of organisations including AusNet services, Energy Networks Australia, Gippsland Water, Jemena, Sydney Water and the Water Services Association of Australia, advocating for biomethane injection into gas distribution networks.

According to Ms McKenzie, this is the first time a diverse cross-sector has come together to call on the government to recognise the potential of biogas, and in particular biomethane, as a gas with a chemical composition very similar to natural gas.

The letter urges the government to recognise the role that biogas can play in solving energy market decarbonisation challenges, while providing the lowest-cost transition to a decarbonised energy system.

A landmark report commissioned by Bioenergy Australia in 2019 on the availability of biogas in Australia identified 371PJ of available energy, which is enough to decarbonise industrial, commercial and residential gas users currently supplied by distributed gas networks across Australia.

The report provides nine recommendations to overcome the challenges facing the emerging industry, which include the need for more favourable policy conditions to enable the growth of a mature and sustainable biogas industry in Australia.

“As part of our advocacy strategy, Bioenergy Australia has created the Renewable Gas Alliance in order to develop leading positions on topics of concern to the advancement and growth of bioenergy in Australia,” Ms McKenzie said.

“We have invited the utility companies to sit on this taskforce to assist us in developing a position and strategy when speaking with government and government-led bodies on how to support this sector.

“Each organisation can bring specific expertise or support towards the development of a strong bio economy. We act as the glue between all the various stakeholders to ensure a strong and consistent work towards the same aim.”

Charlotte Pordage is Editor of Utility magazine, a position she has held since November 2018. She joined the team as an Associate Editor in October 2017, after sharpening her writing and editing skills across a range of print and digital publications. Charlotte graduated from Royal Holloway, University of London, in 2011 with joint honours in English and Latin. When she's not putting together Australia's only dedicated utility magazine, she can usually be found riding her horse or curled up with a good book.

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