Federal energy minister Angus Taylor has tasked the Australian Renewable Energy Agency with developing a roadmap for growing Australia’s production of bioenergy, as the government searches for a way to achieve additional emissions reduction in the industrial and transport sectors.
Taylor has flagged that the roadmap would be used to inform future policy decisions around bioenergy, including how bioenergy may be incorporated into domestic supplies of liquid fuels and gas, recognising that Australia currently lags many other OECD nations in the use of bioenergy.
Additionally, the roadmap will identify the potential uses for biofuels to decarbonise sectors where it is otherwise difficult to achieve emissions reductions, including the aviation and marine sectors.
While a bioenergy strategy will help identify opportunities for reducing some transport emissions, there remains no sign of the federal government’s National Electric Vehicle strategy, announced by the Morrison government back in February. As reported by The Driven, the electric vehicle strategy is unlikely to be seen before mid-2020, while no funds have been allocated to the implementation of such a strategy.
The energy minister likely sees an opportunity for biofuels to play a part in boosting Australia’s energy security by increasing the reserve stocks of liquid fuels. Australia as repeatedly attracted criticism from the International Energy Agency for falling well short of an agreed 90-day stockpile of fuel reserves needed to ensure the security of supply.
In August, Taylor revealed that Australia had secured an arrangement to access a portion of the United States strategic petroleum reserve in a situation were emergency oil supplies are required. The roadmap will consider the role biofuels can play in providing an alternative supply of liquid fuels.
“We want to grow this emerging energy source and the roadmap will help to inform future policy decisions in the bioenergy sector”, Taylor said.
“Bioenergy currently contributes up to approximately 4 per cent of Australia’s total energy consumption, as opposed to approximately 7 per cent in other OECD countries.
It’s important to support new and emerging energy sources like bioenergy so that we can continue to deliver extra energy supply to the market, drive down energy prices for families and businesses, and lower emissions,” Taylor added.
Bioenergy is a form of energy supply that is derived from various renewable or organic energy sources, included from dedicated energy crops or from waste streams such as wastewater, agricultural waste or sewage. Bioenergy sources can be adapted for the supply of heat, or processed in the production of liquid fuels.
While Australia has a well developed practise for capturing waste gas from wastewater treatment and landfill gas for electricity generation, the production of liquid fuels from bioenergy sources has been slow due to high costs and difficulties in achieving large-scale production.
The announcement was welcomed by industry body, Bioenergy Australia, with the announcement coinciding with the start of the Bioenergy Strong conference in Queensland.
“Australia currently lags behind other nations in the development of our bioeconomy and this will be seen as a turning point for the industry,” Bioenergy Australia chief executive Shahana McKenzie said
“In the lead up to the last Federal election we called for this roadmap and we are thrilled the Minister can see the benefit of this new industry and is dedicating resources to map out our future.”
To date, most bioenergy used in Australia has been used to supplement traditional fossil-fuel energy consumption, such as the inclusion of small amounts of bio-ethanol in vehicle fuels, mixing biomass with coal supplies for electricity generation, or trials of the blending of renewable gas in mains gas supplies.
ARENA sees bioenergy as potentially complementing the production of renewable hydrogen, as both can be used to blend or displace traditional supplies of gas and liquid fuels.
“Much like with hydrogen, we’re hoping that this will lead to further uptake and unlock new opportunities for bioenergy in Australia, and will enable bioenergy to play a considerable role in helping us to reduce emissions while also providing secure, reliable and affordable energy supply,” ARENA CEO Darren Miller said.
Miller has advocated for greater investment in the production of renewable hydrogen, highlighting the potential alignment between the production of renewable gas supplies with an opportunity to strengthen Australia’s supplies of renewable electricity generation and to establish Australia as a leader in renewable energy exports.
ARENA has previously provided more than $100 million in grant funding support for the development of bioenergy technologies in Australia, including the production of biofuels and the conversion of waste to energy.
In September, ARENA announced that it would provide a $6.2 million grant to the Logan City Council in Queensland to explore the gasification of biosolids extracted from wastewater and used to assist in the treatment of the water.
Earlier in the year, ARENA also provided a $4 million grant to the Southern Oil Refining company to develop a pilot project producing renewable crude oil, which also sought to use biosolids from wastewater as the feedstock.
ARENA will undertake consultation with industry in early 2020, with the agency set to present the proposed roadmap to the energy minister by mid-2020.