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Insights into the current state of bioenergy in Australia

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2  minute read
Date published
13 June 2024

Dr Arun Nagasubramanian, Patent Attorney, recently attended Bioenergy state-of-play organised by the Australian Institute of Energy, bringing together experts in the energy sector.

Below are Arun’s insights from the presentation.

In May I attended a fascinating presentation on bioenergy in Australia. Organised by the Australian Institute of Energy in Sydney. Here are some of the key themes that stood out for me.

1. Liquid biofuels

Jonty Richardson from Argus Media provided insights into liquid biofuels such as Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) and biodiesel, the challenges in implementation and the possible policy pathways to improve uptake.

SAF and biodiesel can be produced from raw materials, such as used cooking oils, and other sustainable sources, such as forestry residues, oils obtained from seeds. Collection could be one of the challenges for certain types of waste, for example, used cooking oils generated in restaurants. There are a variety of processes that can be employed to produce SAF and biodiesel.

Currently, SAF and biodiesel remain expensive and would require some form of incentives to promote uptake. Interestingly, Europe, is planning to put in place mandates for the use of SAF[1] as a potential way to kickstart the uptake of SAF. This European example could be worth considering in terms of policy changes.

2. Biomethane and its use

Shahana McKenzie from Bioenergy Australia provided an overview of how biomethane could be integrated into existing integrated pipelines without the need for creating a separate infrastructure. With a similar chemical signature to natural gas, it can be fed into existing natural gas pipelines. However, it is necessary to scrub, clean and adjust the composition of biomethane before mixing it with the existing gas pipelines to satisfy regulatory guidelines in place for production, transportation and usage of natural gas.

One such project implemented in a collaborative effort between Jemena and Sydney Water is at the Malabar wastewater treatment plant in Sydney, as outlined by Brent Davis from Jemena. The anaerobic digesters located at this plant generate biomethane which is scrubbed, cleaned and then fed back into Jemena’s natural gas pipelines.

An interesting perspective that was raised was the idea of hydrogen being a facilitator, rather than a competitor (biomethane and hydrogen are both gases and would therefore compete for financial resources allocated for development) to facilitate the transition to renewables.

3. Policy pathways and facilitating agencies

From a policy perspective, there are plans to offer certificates that would allow purchasers of biomethane to claim benefits offered for reducing emissions. Purchasers would simply need to be connected to natural gas pipelines that carry biomethane.

A Bioenergy Roadmap has been set up by ARENA (Australian Renewable Energy Agency) that outlines the potential available in Australia, where bioenergy could fit into the overall energy scene and actions that would be required to realise the vision laid out. ARENA is also funding plenty of projects in this space.

The perspective I gained from this presentation was that Australia has tremendous potential for bioenergy and is well-poised to realise the benefits on offer as part of the transition to renewables. There are some low-hanging fruits, such as biomethane injection, community recycling centres that already collect used cooking oils, however, costs are still high and would require some form of incentives to facilitate uptake.

There are active discussions that are taking place between various stakeholders. Organisations such as Bioenergy Australia create a platform to facilitate such discussions and spread knowledge.

[1] https://www.trade.gov/market-intelligence/european-union-aerospace-and-defense-sustainable-aviation-fuel-regulation#:~:text=Beginning%20in%202025%2C%20fuel%20uplift,the%20EU%2C%20regardless%20of%20destination.