By Mikayla Bridge, Journalist, Energy magazine

Through the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), Australia has partnered with the International Energy Agency (IEA) Bioenergy to develop solutions for seven Bioenergy Tasks. These tasks aim to ensure clean, viable energy for all countries involved, by replacing current fuel, gas, heat and power sources with cost-effective, renewable bioenergy.

IEA Bioenergy, an international organisation set up in 1978, aims to improve cooperation and information exchange between 29 countries with national programs in bioenergy research, development and deployment.

The organisation’s vision of ensuring reliable, affordable and clean energy to its state members is carried out through carefully structured tasks.

These tasks each have set objectives, budgets and time frames. The majority of tasks outlined below set triennial goals, and are reviewed at the end of each three-year period.

Bioenergy Australia participates in the following seven IEA Bioenergy Tasks.

1. Material and Energy valorisation of waste in a Circular Economy
National Team Leader: Daniel Roberts, leader of the CSIRO Hydrogen Energy Future Science Platform

This task aims to exchange information – between policy and decision-makers – on the integration of energy into solid waste management. The task also examines the changes presented by shifts towards increased recycling, resource recovery and zero waste initiatives.

In recent task reports, Australia has demonstrated an impressive technical understanding of the key factors that must be addressed to prevent difficult-to-recycle waste from being landfilled.

However, the increasing demands for nutrient and materials recovery from waste management systems places pressure on Australia’s existing technological pathways. Gaining a better understanding of the different pathways will be a significant focus for Australia moving forward.

2. Energy from Biogas
National Team Leader: Bernadette McCabe, principal scientist at the University of Southern Queensland’s Centre for Agricultural Engineering

This task looks at the biological treatment of the organic fraction of municipal solid waste, anaerobic digestion of biomass feedstocks, and the biogas production chain.

Though the Australian biogas industry continues to evolve, Australia faces a number of challenges that are slowing down the development of biogas projects, such as financial viability of projects and a lack of widespread industry experience.

Enea Consulting and Bioenergy Australia have recently provided recommendations for Australian governments to consider, such as setting renewable gas targets and introducing waste management strategies to support feedstock quality and quantity.

3. Commercialising Conventional and Advanced Liquid Biofuels from Biomass
National Team Leader: Steve Rodgers, Business Development Manager at Licella, a globally leading company in next-generation advanced recycling

This task is focused on commercialising sustainable transportation biofuels. While there are numerous renewable energy options for heat and electricity generation, biofuels are currently the only means – both in Australia and globally – of displacing liquid fossil fuels such as gasoline, diesel and aviation fuels.

Biofuels are not currently included in any Australian national renewables policy and whilst there is a federal biofuels incentive scheme, there is no federal biofuels policy. This is left to each state. To date, only Queensland and New South Wales have biofuels mandates. The current production of ethanol and biodiesel in Australia constitutes only about one per cent of the overall national consumption of petrol and diesel.

4. Biorefining in a future BioEconomy
National Team Leader: Geoff Bell, Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of Microbiogen, the world’s leading developer of microbes for biofuel production

This task analyses the concept of a bio-refinery, and explores and distributes information on biorefinery concepts and projects. This task also considers other products generated from biorefineries that are not considered by other tasks. These include:

» Animal feed
» Proteins
» Biochemicals
» Fibres

As of May 2021, Australian Government policies are targeting a 26-28 per cent CO2 reduction by 2030. The Federal Government is developing a Bioenergy Roadmap through ARENA, which will help inform the next series of investment and policy decisions. According to the roadmap, ARENA’s investment priorities are:

» Integrating renewables into the electricity system
» Accelerating hydrogen
» Supporting industry to reduce emissions

5. Biomass Feedstocks for Energy Markets
National Team Leader: Mark Brown, Professor of Forestry Operations at the University of the Sunshine Coast, and a Director of the Forest Industries Research Centre and Australian Forest Operations Research Alliance (AFORA)

This task seeks to promote bioenergy development that is driven by well-informed decisions in business and governments. This will be achieved by providing analyses, syntheses and conclusions on biomass feedstock to relevant individuals.

In a 2021 task meeting report, the below topics were found to be of interest to Australian stakeholders:
» Bio-hubs as keys to successful biomass supply integration
» Dry matter losses during biomass storage
» Novel regional and landscape based approaches to govern
» Sustainability of bioenergy and biomaterials supply chains

6. Flexible Bioenergy and System Integration
National Team Leader: Amy Philbrook, chemical engineer currently working in business development at ARENA

This task contributes to the development and analysis of bioenergy solutions that can provide flexible resources for a low-carbon energy system. The objective is to improve understanding on the types, quality and status of flexible bioenergy.

After a questionnaire distributed in December 2019 to Task 44 members, Australia was found to lag behind in terms of application of flexible bioenergy concepts. This is likely due to the low level of maturity of the bioenergy industry in the country.

7. Climate and Sustainability Effects of Bioenergy within the Broader Bioeconomy
National Team Leader: Annette Cowie, the Principal Research Scientist, Climate in the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries

This task aims to identify and address critical issues related to the climate and other sustainability effects of bioenergy and bio-based products and systems. This objective will be achieved by providing analyses that support well-informed decisions by land owners, communities, businesses and governments.

Australia’s key goal is to increase national understanding of the environmental, social and economic impacts of producing and using biomass for bioenergy. The chief concern remains the development and application of science-based methodologies and tools for assessing the effects of bio-based systems.

Work is currently underway in Australia to disseminate knowledge on successful mechanisms to improve the use of flexible bioenergy in different energy sectors.

Bioenergy essential for Australia’s future

As the world’s primary source of renewable power, bioenergy offers countries a sustainable replacement for current fuel, gas, heat and power sources that doubles as waste management. However, bioenergy technology is not yet widely deployed across Australia.

Through Australia’s participation in the IEA Bioenergy Tasks, the country’s reliance on renewable energy is set to increase, consequently growing Australia’s regional jobs and use of natural resources. With domestic and international governments pushing for decarbonisation across industries, bioenergy in Australia is not only viable, but essential.

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