Bio-energy – a step towards sustainability or a dirty brown future? (18.6)

waste pyrolysis
Is the Bioenergy Forum being held in the Valley today and tomorrow seeking real solutions to the momentous problems of climate change and sustainability or is it an attempt to rescue the timber industry and the Latrobe Valley generators from oblivion? Two crucial questions that follow on from this are where the feedstock for the process comes from and how it is used.

If the proposal is that the material to be used comes from our forests and is then burned along with coal in the Latrobe Valley generators then this is disastrous. More CO2 will be released into the atmosphere than saved by these methods. Further by burning forest waste in the generators the life of these monoliths – already past their ‘use-by’ dates – will be extended when they should be closed as soon as is practical. Is the clause in the Renewable Energy Target Amendment currently before the Senate an excuse to prop up an ailing timber industry as well?

If on the other hand the material used is true shire and farm waste and is combusted in specially designed generators by the pyrolysis process, then this is a step in the right direction. In the 2010 election I stood as a candidate in Morwell and promoted this process which has been advocated by Tim Flannery. In 2014 I emphasised the need to rapidly phase out timber milling and the need to protect our forests as a carbon store. The pyrolysis process offers the opportunity to produce electricity or liquid fuel from true waste as well as producing a bi-product known as ‘biochar’ or ‘agrichar’.

But if the term ‘bioenergy’ used to justify the destruction of the carbon store in our native forests and send the ailing timber industry a lifeline then the process is not sustainable and the energy is definitely not renewable. The Senate amendment should be opposed.