Biomass power plan to bridge gap between farmers and miners

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Remote mining projects in farming areas could soon access baseload electricity from biomass plants powered by straw.

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Source: The Conversation
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The Lead

Source: The Conversation
Source: The Conversation

Remote mining projects in farming areas could soon access baseload electricity from biomass plants powered by straw.

Yorke Biomass Energy is building a demonstration plant in South Australia to illustrate how a straw burning generator can provide miners with a competitively priced power source for the first 10-20MW of power.

The plant, expected to be operational next year, is in the heart of Yorke Peninsula, a major grain-growing region with a rich mining history.

Yorke Biomass Energy Chairman Terry Kallis told the 2017 South Australian Resources and Energy Investment Conference in Adelaide this week that the technology would be ideal for new mining projects in farming areas.

“This energy approach provides a mutually beneficial outcome for mining and farming communities and increases local economic activity through the collection, transport and storage of biomass fuel stock,” Kallis said.

“There is a substantial stubble resource within a 50km radius of the proposed plant site and the stubble has a preferred moisture content of just 15 per cent.”

The Ardrossan plant is modelled on existing plants operated by Acciona in Spain and is expected should require around 90,000 tonnes of straw from local farms per annum.

“These power plants present opportunity for mutually exclusive feedstock supply agreements and profit sharing arrangements with local farmers. An open book process can be used to negotiate their supply price per tonne.

“The Ardrossan plant may also have the capacity to supply local domestic customers in the broader Ardrossan footprint.”

The demonstration plant is near the proposed Rex Minerals Hillside copper and gold project. Adjacent Eyre Peninsula is also emerging as a mining hub with several graphite mines and the Iron Road project expected to begin operation in the coming years.

South Australia is a globally important producer of copper, uranium and zircon.

The state also produces iron ore, zinc, lead, silver, industrial minerals (including salt, silica sand and gypsum) and extractive materials (including dimension stone and opal).

Source: The Lead. Reproduced with permission.
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8 Comments
  1. Craig Allen 2 years ago

    If there’s money to be earned from harvest residues, and it requires machinery and systems to be invented or modified and deployed then there are none better for the job than the farmers of the South Australian wheat belt.

    They honed their skills inventing ways to efficiently bulldoze millions of hectares of mallee woodland. That’s (mostly) in the past. But they know what they’re doing when it comes to harvesting and moving millions of tones of plant matter. And there is a large overlap of the workforce and expertise with those of the mining and transport industries.

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    • Bungarra 2 years ago

      I would suggest that changing ‘South Australian’ to “Southern Australian” would be more appropriate and inclusive. There was allot of cross pollination. I was part of that. The adoption of Min Till in WA was very rapid. The ‘Edillilie Stubble Dumper’ was a SA farmer invention which was not fully appreciated for its effect on weeds until work in WA alerted farmers to the value of weeds seed collection.

      The development of chaff carts for headers in WA based in part on Canadian equipment also shows that you cannot keep good ideas down.

  2. George Darroch 2 years ago

    Biomass is not a carbon-neutral energy source.

    In fact, it’s worse than coal.

    • howardpatr 2 years ago

      People forget that the breakdown of the straw is the food for soil micro-organisms and yhey ultimately impact on the carbon level in soils.

    • Rod 2 years ago

      I’m not sure what the practice is now but past practice was to burn the stubble.
      My preferred use for straw (stubble) would be for mulch or slashed and turned back into the soil. I would hope there are some enlightened farmers who would agree.

      • Craig Allen 2 years ago

        No tillage systems are dependant on a significantly increased amount of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides being applied to paddocks. However it seems that the increased amount of chemical being applied is not fully effective, so farmers seem to be returning to burning the stubble in at least a portion of years. So perhaps we will end up with a system where some years a paddock is burned, some years the stubble is harvested for biofuel and some years it is left for no tillage.

  3. Bungarra 2 years ago

    This proposal has some interesting side issues/benefits. I first got involved with collecting harvest residues in the late 1980’s as herbicide resistance was first appearing in annual ryegrass to the best herbicides we had at the time. Harvest time collection of weed seeds seemed to be a useful tool. It has been shown to do so.

    For every tone of grain there is about 2 tones of stubble. By collecting all that comes out the back of a header harvesting grains one ends up with a considerable amount of stubble plus fines plus waste grain and weed seeds. This can be consumed by stock. It will double or more the livestock production of that harvested paddock before the next seasons rains. As the residues are in stacks, the damaging effects of summer rainfall on feed quality is substantially reduced.

    As one of the major problems being encountered by broad-acre farmers is the rise of herbicide resistant weeds, by collecting the weed seeds, the populations of the plants – ryegrass etc, can be reduced substantially. This has strong flow on effects in reducing weed density maintaining sustainability.

    The University of WA Herbicide Resistance program has assisted the development of a grinder to kill all weed seeds in the header residues. They are then spread about.

    Now what I would suggest is that serious work be done to extract from the stubble via Pyrolysis or biological means, high value chemicals before we burn the residue. We have a large renewable source of reduced carbon containing many different molecules. We could always manipulate the crops to increase the desirable molecules or tweak the fungi / bacteria to extract more.

    For those who are concerned re organic matter in the soil, we still have the crops root fraction, and noting that up to 90% of labile organic matter is destroyed by cultivation, keeping soil disturbance to an absolute minimum, one helps protects that too. But your herbicides must work.

    We will need to replace the nutrients removed. We should be doing that any way or we are just mining. WA soils are so low in nutrients, one rapidly loses productivity if one does not. Talk to hay producers. Capturing such nutrients, eg P, Ca, S, K etc and even possibly N (as NH3 or other) from the energy process needs examination, just as recycling nutrients from sewerage and processing garbage for energy.

    I would suggest that we should hurry to collect the relevant data as the NeoCon “Trickle Down” Con artists Destroyers and their Acolytes are destroying the heritage of Agricultural R&D held in the State and Commonwealth Departments and skill sets are not being replaced. We cannot spend money on public good can we?!?

    Note that in the last 25 years or so we have increased achievable grain yields by 2-2.5 times so that many farmers are now reaching the absolute limits on yield as imposed by available rain fall.

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