Recently a bioenergy forum was held in Gippsland about the same time as the Senate was passing an amendment to include so-called “sustainable forest waste” in the Renewable Energy Target. This was an unfortunate coincidence. As well a number of the presentations at the forum were dependant on this ‘forest waste’ as part of their process. These should not be considered sustainable in any way or form.
With a climate emergency looming preservation of native forests as a carbon store must be a priority. As soon as the forests are preserved and protected this feedstock will dwindle if not disappear. Secondly burning pelletised wood waste still produces CO2 when our aim should be restrict output of greenhouse gases as much as possible.
There are at least two ways to do this. The first is using anaerobic digesters to produce methane gas and manure. This process was represented by several presentations at the forum including by East Gippsland water who have recommissioned a digester built in the 1980s. I will comment on this more fully later. The second is the Flannery pyrolysis generator which does not appear to have been represented at the forum. This process produces liquid or gas fuel and has a residue product called agrichar or biochar which is stable charcoal or carbon.
Also presenting at the forum was Heartwood Plantations who currently manage 50 plantations in Victoria. They pointed out that bioenergy was quite compatible with their operations but as yet it was not economic to do so. Up to 40% of their product would be available for bioenergy and cogeneration (heat and power). Since we need to phase out native forest logging we should be encouraging operations like these as much as possible.
A participant at the forum noted that “Due to the nature of the energy market current being over supplied with electricity, and falling demand, the message around the applicability for using bioenergy was consistent. There is a place for bioenergy energy current in small scale, site or precinct applications where users have a ready supply of biomass material (a biomass waste material) and a need to meet the localised demand of combined heat and electricity.”
With the above provisos in mind we concur.