Bioen­ergy: the for­got­ten re­new­able

Australian Forests and Timber - - IN THE NEWS - By Tony Pasin MP Fed­eral Mem­ber for Barker

ANY­ONE WHO’S been watch­ing the na­tional de­bate would know that en­ergy se­cu­rity and af­ford­abil­ity is a top is­sue, nowhere more so than in my home state of South Aus­tralia.

The de­bate cen­tres around a highly ide­o­log­i­cal ar­gu­ment re­gard­ing low­er­ing emis­sions.

For over a decade, Gov­ern­ments at both State and Fed­eral level, here and abroad have fo­cused their en­ergy pol­icy around the need to tran­si­tion to a lower emis­sions fu­ture in the en­ergy sec­tor. Some Aus­tralian states have adopted un­re­al­is­tic tar­gets and have com­pro­mised both the se­cu­rity and af­ford­abil­ity of our power sup­ply.

The de­bate around re­new­ables is fo­cused heav­ily (at least in South Aus­tralia) on wind and so­lar as the key re­new­able sources of en­ergy.

What hasn’t yet been dis­cussed in this de­bate is re­new­able bioen­ergy sourced from sus­tain­ably pro­duced ‘wood waste’ such as, saw­dust waste from saw mills or the branches of plan­ta­tion trees that are not suit­able for wood prod­uct man­u­fac­tur­ing that are left on the ground to rot.

Re­new­able bioen­ergy sourced from wood waste is a re­li­able re­new­able which can cre­ate both baseload and dis­patch­able power, but can also pro­vide eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and jobs in forestry, wood and pa­per prod­uct man­u­fac­tur­ing in re­gional and ru­ral ar­eas.

Re­new­able bioen­ergy sourced from wood waste is es­sen­tially “car­bon neu­tral” over its life cy­cle be­cause com­bus­tion of biomass re­leases the same amount of CO2 as was cap­tured by the plant dur­ing its growth. This is a nat­u­ral part of the car­bon cy­cle. Re­new­able bioen­ergy is part of mak­ing the most use from ma­te­ri­als sourced dur­ing for­est har­vest­ing and the pro­duc­tion of wood, pa­per or bio-based prod­ucts (which store car­bon long term). By con­trast, fos­sil fu­els re­lease CO2 that has been locked up for mil­lions of years.

The cur­rent de­bate born from our en­ergy se­cu­rity is­sues should, in the­ory, lead to en­ergy pol­icy re­form. I hope that re­forms will in­clude in­vest­ment in re­li­able baseload re­new­able bioen­ergy sourced from wood waste.

Glob­ally, re­new­able bioen­ergy from biomass in­clud­ing wood waste ac­counts for around 77% of re­new­able en­ergy, which rep­re­sents 13% of the world’s pri­mary en­ergy mix. The In­ter­na­tional En­ergy Agency es­ti­mates that bioen­ergy could pro­vide 7.5% of world elec­tric­ity gen­er­a­tion by the year 2050, and heat from bioen­ergy could pro­vide 15% of global fi­nal en­ergy con­sump­tion in in­dus­try and 20% in the build­ing sec­tor.

How­ever, de­spite hav­ing the high­est area of for­est per capita of the de­vel­oped na­tions, in 2015 bioen­ergy only con­trib­uted 9.1% of to­tal re­new­able en­ergy and 1.3% of to­tal elec­tric­ity gen­er­ated in Aus­tralia (CEC 2015). In con­trast, bioen­ergy con­trib­utes more than 24% of the to­tal en­ergy con­sump­tion in Finland, more than 22% in Swe­den and more than 17% in Den­mark (IEA).

There are com­pa­nies in Aus­tralia who man­u­fac­ture re­new­able bio-pel­lets from wood waste, ship them to Ja­pan, that are then used to co-fire ex­ist­ing non­re­new­able (coal and gas) elec­tric­ity gen­er­a­tors. As they are re­new­able this re­duces the car­bon foot­print.

So much at­ten­tion has been given to wind, so­lar and tra­di­tional forms of fos­sil fu­els while very lit­tle has been given to the po­ten­tial to add biomass to this mix.

We need to re­form our en­ergy pol­icy and I’ll be push­ing for biomass to be part of that con­ver­sa­tion.

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