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Jemena and Sydney Water have signed an agreement to produce biomethane at the Malabar Wastewater Treatment Plant in South Sydney, with the green gas used to power Sydney homes and businesses.  

The zero-emission, high-quality biomethane gas will be injected into Jemena’s New South Wales gas distribution network – the largest in Australia with 1.4 million customers. 

The $14 million project is jointly funded by Jemena ($8.1 million) and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), who provided $5.9 million in grant funding. 

The project involves the installation of gas cleaning and upgrading equipment that will be located at Malabar, with the infrastructure then connected to the Jemena natural gas network.

The facility is expected to produce the first biomethane for injection into the Jemena gas  network in 2022.  

Jemena Executive General Manager, Gas Distribution, Dr Jennifer Purdie, said as Australia  looks to recover from the financial impacts of COVID-19, circular economy opportunities have the potential to create jobs, support business growth and enhance energy security, with no impact to the network or customer appliances.  

“This agreement will see biomethane injected into the gas network for the first time in Australia with an initial capacity of 95TJ of renewable green gas per year, which is enough to meet the gas demand of approximately 6,300 homes,” Dr Purdie said.

This has the potential to be scaled up to 200TJ per year, enough to meet the gas demand of around 13,300 homes. 

“We estimate there’s at least another 30,000TJ of biomethane that has the potential to be unlocked around our NSW gas infrastructure,” Dr Purdie said.  

“That’s enough to supply all our current residential customers with carbon-neutral, green gas. 

“Our customers have told us they want to purchase verified and accredited zero-emission green gas, as is currently the case for renewable electricity.

“We are challenging the notion that the only way to be 100 per cent renewable is through electrification, and this project will introduce the first renewable gas certificates to support our call for a national renewable gas certification scheme.” 

Bioenergy is derived from plant and animal by-products, agriculture, farming, forestry and  human wastes. When converted into biomethane, it is a reliable and responsive carbon neutral form of energy.  

Bioenergy and waste-to-energy projects are widespread in the US and Europe, with Bioenergy Australia estimating that the total contribution of the US biofuels industry in 2016 was $459 billion, employing 4.65 million direct and indirect workers. 

Globally, more than a million terajoules of biogas were produced in 2014, about 1.5 per cent of the international renewable energy supply. 

ARENA CEO, Darren Miller, said this first-of-its-kind project would show how biomethane could help to supplement domestic gas supplies and decarbonise the gas network.

“The injection of biomethane into the natural gas network is currently unproven in Australia due to a range of technical, regulatory and commercial factors,” Mr Miller said.

“Displacing natural gas with biomethane and renewable hydrogen is recognised as the likely pathway to decarbonise natural gas networks. 

“With a successful demonstration by Jemena, we could see biomethane use increasing across the country.”

In Australia, it’s estimated the biofuels industry could provide 250,000 jobs, mostly in regional areas, and has the potential to avoid up to nine million tonnes of CO² emissions.  

The Malabar biomethane project is expected to remove 5,000 tonnes of carbon emissions – the equivalent of around 4,500 cars off the road – and potentially 11,000 tonnes if scaled up to its full potential, making it a significant contributor to the NSW Government’s Stage 1, Net Zero Plan, to cut emissions by 35 per cent by 2030 compared to 2005 levels. 

The project will also investigate renewable gas trading opportunities linking gas users with renewable gas production facilities. Such trading mechanisms would support a highly replicable ‘green gas’ market across other gas networks.

If successful, the project is expected to support wider uptake of biomethane technology by the Australian waste industry with the application expected to have broader application than just the wastewater treatment sector.

Federal Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction, Angus Taylor, said gas plays a key role in supporting Australia’s growing renewable capacity, and in delivering the reliable and affordable energy Australians deserve.

“The Commonwealth Government is committed to partnering with industry and supporting projects that drive the gas-led recovery from the COVID-19 recession, which is why we are backing this exciting, innovative project,” Mr Taylor said.

“This project demonstrates the importance of our existing gas infrastructure for the rollout of new energy technologies. 

“Our gas pipelines provide the essential foundation needed so customers can access renewable gas and hydrogen.

“Gas is not a competitor for renewables, it is complementary. 

“We will continue to take practical action to reduce emissions, while strengthening the economy and supporting jobs that rely on affordable, reliable energy.”

New South Wales Minister for Water, Housing and Property, Melinda Pavey, said partnering with the private sector through innovation will be crucial to unlocking the potential of wastewater to help power Greater Sydney.

“The nation’s largest wastewater treatment plant at Malabar will be able to produce about 95,000 gigajoules of biomethane each year based on current volumes which is enough to meet the gas demand of 6,300 homes,” Ms Pavey said.

“As Sydney grows, so too does the volume of wastewater treated at Malabar. 

“The biomethane facility has the capacity to double production which means by 2030, we could increase supply to up to 13,000 homes.

“‘Gas to grid’ is a demonstration of the circular economy. 

“As well as gas, we can produce recycled water, electricity and biosolids, helping build a resilient network and creating cool, green spaces for our customers to live, work and play.”

The agreement builds on Jemena’s renewable gas credentials, with the utility on track to install the first electrolyser in New South Wales in late 2020 and inject renewable hydrogen gas into the NSW gas network in early 2021.  

Jemena’s Western Sydney Green Gas project, also co-funded by ARENA, is the most  comprehensive hydrogen demonstration in Australia and will test the generation of hydrogen  gas from solar and wind power, the storage of hydrogen in existing pipeline assets and provide off-take gas for the vehicle industry.

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