$476,000 grant to fast-track Australia's first straw- fuelled power plant | RenewEconomy

$476,000 grant to fast-track Australia’s first straw- fuelled power plant

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Development of Australia’s first straw-fuelled power plant is a step closer with the Yorke Biomass Energy project receiving a $476,000 funding grant from the South Australian Government.

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Development of Australia’s first straw-fuelled power plant is a step closer with the Yorke Biomass Energy project receiving a $476,000 funding grant from the South Australian Government.

The grant, which forms part of the State Government’s Renewable Technology Fund, will be used to finance the feasibility assessment of Yorke Biomass Energy’s demonstration project at Ardrossan on South Australia’s Yorke Peninsula.

The demonstration project will produce 15MW of power and showcase how a straw-burning generator can provide reliable 24/7 renewable power, while also delivering new jobs, new incomes for farmers and lower power prices.

Once the demonstration project is complete, Yorke Biomass Energy plans to replicate the project across South Australia in remote and off-grid locations, particularly where crop farming and mining projects are located. In fact, several other potential locations have already been identified, primarily on the state’s Eyre Peninsula, to produce up to 150MW of base load power.

Yorke Biomass Energy Chairman Terry Kallis says the State Government funding grant is a major boost for the continued development of straw-fuelled power.

“This funding grant will enable us to take some big steps forward with our demonstration project and proceed through to financial close during the second half of 2018,” said Mr Kallis.

“It’s also a fantastic vote of confidence in the project by the South Australian Government, which continues to look at innovative new ways to provide cheaper, greener and more reliable energy in South Australia.”

The demonstration project will be located near the Ardrossan West substation and be based on existing plants operated by global infrastructure company Acciona, which is Yorke Biomass Energy’s exclusive contractor for engineering, procurement and construction.

Approximately 90,000 tonnes of straw per annum is expected to be required from local farms to operate the Ardrossan plant, which will create up to 40 long-term jobs through the plant’s operation, as well as through the ongoing collection and transportation of straw.

Yorke Biomass Energy involves a novel cooperative-style business model in which local biomass suppliers own and operate a company called Yorke Biomass Supply, which has an exclusive contract with Yorke Biomass Energy for the supply of suitable biomass.

Importantly, biomass energy has the highest per MW employment creation of any form of renewable energy, so the potential for new jobs in regional South Australia is significant given the planned pipeline of projects. For example, ongoing jobs created by a 15MW biomass project is equal to a 500MW wind farm project.

“In addition to the potential 150MW of projects in SA, we have identified the possibility for a further 450MW in other states including Victoria, New South Wales and Western Australia,” said Mr Kallis.

“We believe straw-fuelled power generation can play an important role in Australia’s energy mix. It can help reduce the cost of electricity and create new economic benefits to local rural communities, as well as helping resolve issues between mining and agricultural pursuits in a win- win manner.

“There are also significant environmental benefits on offer, such as improvements to sustainable local farming in terms of soil health, crop rotation and weed management, in addition to reduced greenhouse gases and improved energy security.”

Yorke Biomass Energy is aiming for the Ardrossan power plant to be operational in early 2020.

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  1. Joe 3 years ago

    Biomass…Tick… but Biogas…?….it is low hanging fruit.

    • zegoblin 2 years ago

      You can easily put hay through a biogas process (as it is has soluble carbohydrate), but not straw without sourcing and transporting complimentary feedstocks.
      However, the cost of hay is 3x that of straw.

      Biogas technology has much larger CAPEX and OPEX.

      The LCoE for bio gas is $281/MWe and LCoE for combustion is $68/MWe.
      As presented by an independent researcher at the Australian Waste to Energy Forum in Ballarat in Feb 2018.

  2. Alan Benn 3 years ago

    It will be interesting to see the results of the feasibility study. Wonder what the price per kWh will come out at ? What does 90,000tons of straw cost and how much energy would it make – at only 30-40% conversion I presume? How much fuel used to transport it ? More jobs sounds good for workers but will increase per unit energy cost. Wonder how it improves soil health ? I thought leaving stubble etc on the soil improved soil health ? The more you take away the more you have to put back in ?

    • Hettie 3 years ago

      100% correct

      • zegoblin 2 years ago

        There is some truth in what you say but ‘100% correct’ paints a pretty black and white answer which is a little off the mark.

        Stubble retention in a sustainable farming system is very important.

        However, the Yorke Biomass Energy project offers tools for sustainable farming that should not be overlooked so readily.

        That being, a market for bales contaminated with herbicide resistant weed seeds (i.e. bale direct technology), and the potential for baled biomass from mixed species diversity crops.

        The key is the intensity of participation in the catchment.
        If you actually calculate the area in a 50km catchment radius and can achieve widespread farmer participation, you’ll find that baling herbicide resistant weed seeds off a paddock twice every 20 years and baling a mixed species diversity crop once in 20 years is more than enough biomass to fire the electricity plant.

        As a farmer, who wouldn’t want markets for biomass products that enable sustainable farm practices that are currently very difficult to adopt due to cash flow constraints because current markets for bales containing weed seeds and mix species are virtually non-existent.

        Reducing herbicide resistant weed pressure and introducing mixed specie cover crops can do a lot for soil health, if combined with no-till and full residue retention for the other 17 years out of every 20.

        • Hettie 2 years ago

          I just don’t see how this will lower carbon emissions. Burn coal, gas, wood, dung, or straw, you get CO2 and a range of other nasties.
          Compost the straw and harvest the bio gas, you still get CO2.
          Bale the straw and use it to build houses, you lock in that carbon, and displace energy profligate bricks, while creating very energy efficient houses. That’s better.

          • zegoblin 2 years ago

            You are right to say that both coal and straw release CO2. However, the carbon in coal is already secure deep in the ground. Straw extracts CO2 from the atmosphere as it grows.
            Therefore, the net effect is that burning straw is close to neutral with respect to atmospheric CO2 whereas burning coal increases the net CO2 in the atmosphere.

            Nonetheless, the main thrust of my comment is that the straw to energy plant serves other purposes for sustainable agriculture that you had previously totally overlooked.

            – And your most recent response still fails to recognise the substantial issues of controlling herbicide resistant weeds and allowing for an increase in diversity in the farming rotation that doesn’t cripple cash flow.

            With regard to biogas, the LCoE for bio gas is $281/MWe and LCoE for combustion is $68/MWe. (As presented at the waste to energy forum in Ballarat in Feb 2018).

            I understand the straw bale house story and know guys that bale small squares specifically for that market.
            Nonetheless, the straw house market is not significant enough to allow the sustainable farming systems changes that I described.
            Rather than a theory, show me a contract for 100,000T p.a. for 10 years with a starting price of $100 per T for house building that doesn’t have tight tolerance for bale consistency, moisture, etc …

          • Hettie 2 years ago

            The best answer to herbicide resistant weeds is organic farming practice. The problem is totally man made.
            I am not qualified to offer solutions, nor am I under any obligation to do so, having followed organic gardening practices for forty five years.
            Let those who created the problem accept responsibility for solving it.
            It does occur to me, however, that creating the conditions for the weed seeds to sprout, then hot composting the straw/weed trash mixture would provide a nutrient rich top dressing for the harvested fields.

          • zegoblin 2 years ago

            You therefore must see that the straw to energy enables a non-herbicide tool for weed control !

            Baling weed seeds and cleanly combusting them is an organic tool if you want to think about it like that.

            My question is:
            How can you say ‘go organic’ and at the same time criticise a weed control method that doesn’t use herbicide ?

            I really don’t understand your resistance to the fact that biomass to energy can create a financial mechanism that allows farmers to adopt sustainable tools that are currently not avaliable to them.

          • Hettie 2 years ago

            Quite simple. I want to see that carbon in the soil, not in the air.

          • zegoblin 2 years ago

            Most of the carbon in the straw does end up in the atmosphere from microbiological respiration, or when the paddock is burnt just prior to seeding.
            In fact, if the paddock gets wet, the microbial respiration is also likely to yield some methane, which significantly increases the overall greenhouse liability compared to clean combustion.

            Also bearing in mind, they are not talking about stripping the land each each – a partial off-take during 3 years in every 20.

            It is also more likely that the root canopy of a mixed specie biodiversity crop that is enabled by the energy market would sequester more carbon than the straw.

            Cultivating the soil, which is a standard organic practice, is the most damaging practice for releasing carbon from the soil to the atmosphere. Is that how you propose to control the weeds ?

  3. Askgerbil Now 3 years ago

    It seems odd that technologies can’t be combined.
    For instance, South Australia’s 150 MW concentrated solar thermal power station has capital expenditure requirements for thermal storage. This requires extra heliostats devoted to sending thermal energy to storage instead of generating electricity.

    Straw fuel could be used in place of thermal storage, reducing the capital expenditure of the concentrated solar thermal power station.

    Another option for synergy of these two projects is perhaps less obvious but potentially far better. Concentrated solar thermal energy can be used to turn the straw into synthesis gas. This saves about 30 percent of the energy in the straw that is ‘wasted’ if the straw is burned without first being converted to gas. The synthesis gas produced:
    1/ Avoids the cost of the thermal energy storage needed by the concentrated solar thermal power station. This is because the solar thermal energy is stored in the form of synthesis gas.
    2/ Allows the energy in both the straw and the concentrated solar thermal energy to be used in a combined cycle gas turbine power station. This raises the conversion efficiency to 60 percent – far above the efficiency that either power plant can achieve now. (I’m assuming they both plan to use steam turbine generators at efficiencies between 20 percent and 40 percent.)

  4. Ian 3 years ago

    What is done with the straw now? Is it burnt in the field or is it feed for animals or mulch for maintaining soil quality?

    Assuming this is a better solution to straw waste than what is currently practiced, then why go for “baseload” . SA needs baseload like it needs a coalition government. Dispatchability is the issue. Generating equipment that is complimentary with wind and solar ie to generate electricity when these resources are not operating.

  5. Hettie 3 years ago

    Surely burning straw will produce significant CO2 emissions?
    Better to let it lie on the soil to feed it, insulate it, protect it from wind erosion, and reduce moisture loss.
    Not happy.

    • BushAxe 3 years ago

      CO² is still released when plant matter breaks down..

    • Sir Pete o Possums Reek 3 years ago

      If, if, IF
      they cycle back the end products (the ash “waste”) from the process it may be a positive thing for the agricultural soil itself.

      Much like “biochar” or charcoal eg. rice husks.
      Its also possible to further process or use the materials in horticulture (higher returns per meter squared) or even city landscaping, buffering potting mixes etal. There should be large local demands for those classes of products if not now then soon.

      I suspect though some will continuously strip mine paddocks to feed the money machine, as beyond moisture content they wont have to meet many of the weed seed and feed quality standards. i.e. its easier to manage and predict a return. Less buggering about mate !
      (they probably wont last long beyond a drought windstorm or two)

      The smart ones will manage their outputs, much like they do now.
      Or simply extend their harvest over more paddocks and more runs.
      (or have an opportunity crop from “resting” paddocks etc)
      The price of hay in China probably just went up, as did hay fever medication
      stocks 🙂

      I am skeptical but think that with many other technologies competing in all of these spaces, it is unlikely hay burning, gets too out of hand. With some thought it may be a useful piece of diversification for growers and the energy system.
      On the face of it there is little new technology here and maybe the social licence is the more difficult ask. There is a reliable supply network to grow, along with all that grass.

      It may not be a panacea but its probably worth a serious _trial_.

      Finally (sorry) I would note that wood pellets haven’t done so well in the Illawarra (not terrible just not brilliantly), where as producing ethanol from wheat wastes has done too well, (Nowra and nitrates) rice husks have done (Griffith ) OKish, Cane wastes in QLD have done very well…
      (easier supply chain and materials)
      … It is one thing to build the machines its quite another to build the required systems and even trickier to utilise all of that in their changing environments. 🙂

      • Hettie 3 years ago

        Straw has many uses. It is used for bedding for some animals, for mud control in chicken yards, and as a building material – thatching, or straw bale houses are fabulous.
        Do not confuse straw with hay. Hay is grown as fodder for horses and cattle. It is various pasture plants, grasses, Lucerne, other plants, harvested when it’s nutritional value is highest, just as it sets seed.
        Straw is the residue fron a grain crop like wheat or rice. It is the stems that remain after the grain is harvested. Nutritional value, negligible. Still has value as a soil conditioner and mulch.
        Like all organic material, straw does not burn clean. Smoke ++.
        Wind and solar are clean. Straw and wood pellets are not.

        • Sir Pete o Possums Reek 3 years ago

          Sure. Totally agree wind and solar are cleaner.

          [ FWIW I understand the difference between hay / fodder straw bedding (and others) long time ago “we” ran a dairy and have even done some cobbing (last week) etc. Somewhere in between I was a nurseryman which is the only reason I know anything about Rice hulls and wheat wastes. ]

          One of the management dangers is that anything that vaguely resembles straw will go into the furnace… even saplings or lucerne hay if its convenient.
          (Its just business for some).
          There will need to be oversight and monitoring of the _real_ costs.
          (yeah sure I know … unlikely but note this has little to do with the current mob of morons batting 13th for coal etc.)

          For this project in question there are some other points that are notable especially the _cooperative structure_ .

          That may engage the growers in the wider project and the “new” economies.
          That may be a part of the governance of the process.
          That model may be an example or even itself used to broaden engagement.

          The social licence(s) is fundamental to long term success.
          There are probably thousands of great and better engineering ideas rusting or moldering away, unused or forgotten.
          Unless there is a culture that supports and fits the applied technology, its near useless.
          Insisting on perfection ?
          Not handing the growers some credibility and trust ? (yeah I know the the track records not great )
          Everybody needs to take some risks , all of us.

          So if a grower can produce and store power through wind solar, biofuel, burning straw … and that farmer in the community has the social and physical infrastructure to make this attractive and help at least defuse the operational risks …

          We may get more lentils !

          • Hettie 3 years ago

            My reply was really meant for Ian, who asked what straw is used for now. Sorry, did not mean to teach my Grannie!
            Realised my error after I posted. Could have copied, pasted in reply to Ian, deleted the original, but I was almost asleep and didn’t think of it.
            My bad.
            And would you not prefer to see the straw returned to our much abused soil?

          • Sir Pete o Possums Reek 3 years ago

            Short answer : “Yes”

  6. Barry Alternative Fact Covfefe 3 years ago

    This reminds me of UK wood burners which are not CO2 friendly since they burn trees that are not replanted at the rate of burning. Whats the realistic CO2 story here?

  7. Askgerbil Now 3 years ago

    Combining this technology with concentrated solar thermal power generation may improve the cost and performance of both of these technologies. See “Combinations of renewable energy projects – better together” for instance: http://blog.gerbilnow.com/2018/02/combinations-of-renewable-energy.html

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