Bioenergy involves efficiently extracting considerable quantities of clean, low-emission electricity from waste.

Common sources of bioenergy are:

  • sugar cane residues (also known as bagasse)
  • landfill gas (the methane produced by landfills)
  • agricultural crop and livestock waste
  • household garbage
  • sewage gas
  • wood waste
  • black liquor (a by-product of the paper-making process)

In Australia, the sector currently generates approximately 2400 GWh per annum. This equates to just over 1 per cent of total electricity generation, and 6.9 per cent of total clean energy generation.

Bioenergy generators tend to be smaller than hydro plants and wind farms.

Bioenergy in Australia: 2013 in focus

LMS's Swanbank facility

LMS Swanbank facility

More than 60 per cent of Australia's bioenergy capacity came from the combustion of bagasse in 2013. Landfill gas was the second-largest contributor with just over 20 per cent, and this figure has the potential to grow further under the Federal Government's Carbon Farming Initiative.

Two new bioenergy plants came online in 2013. In Queensland, Mackay Sugar's 38 MW Racecourse power plant began generating power for the Racecourse Sugar Mill, as well as delivering enough power to the grid to supply around a third of Mackay's total electricity requirements. And the 0.6 MW Colignan Cogeneration plant in Mildura, Victoria, demonstrated an innovative use of food and agricultural waste by turning grape by-products into electricity.

Breakdown of capacity

  • Bagasse cogeneration – 62 per cent
  • Landfill gas – 22 per cent
  • Black liquor – 9 per cent
  • Sewage gas – 5 per cent
  • Food and agricultural wet waste – 1 per cent
  • Wood waste – 1 per cent

Bioenergy plants operating and under construction in Australia (at end of 2013)

 

No. of plants in operation

No. of plants under development

Australian Capital Territory

3

 

New South Wales

37

5

Northern Territory

1

 

Queensland

43

3

South Australia

8

 

Tasmania

4

1

Victoria

28

2

Western Australia

15

1

Total

139

12

The future of bioenergy

A difficult financial environment, policy uncertainty and grid connectivity issues mean that bioenergy uptake in Australia remains fairly slow.

However, there are numerous large sustainable biomass resources across the country that remain underutilised. Given more favourable financial conditions and better policy support, bioenergy has the potential for extremely strong growth over the coming decades.

This year will see the expansion of the Woodlawn Bioreactor in New South Wales. The upgrade is set to add 6.9 MW of capacity and will produce clean electricity from what would otherwise be waste material.

Sources:

  • Clean Energy Australia Report 2013
  • Clean Energy Council Renewable Energy Database