Where are the opportunities in waste-to-energy?

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During recent customer consultations across the Jemena Gas Network in New South Wales, customers said they expected the energy industry to innovate and plan ahead so that they can continue to use gas in a net zero carbon future.

So how does an energy company like Jemena start to consider ways to make its network greener to meet industry and customer expectations? Gabrielle Sycamore, General Manager Gas Markets at Jemena explains.

Gabrielle Sycamore

Greening the gas network

As a country, Australia has committed to transitioning to a low carbon future, and the Federal Government has set a target to reduce carbon emissions by 26-28 per cent by 2030. The New South Wales government has committed to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Our challenge is to continue to supply safe and uninterrupted gas to customers, while ensuring this gas is clean and sustainable.

Jemena has already begun this process with a $15 million power-to-gas trial, called Jemena Project H2GO, in partnership with the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) which will demonstrate the capability of our 25,000km gas distribution network to store renewably generated, low emission, hydrogen gas.

Now, waste-to-energy in the form of biomethane is also firmly on our radar as a potential decarbonisation solution.

Sustainability through circular economies

Jemena’s interest in waste-to-energy is rapidly advancing. We are working with customers, industry associations, biogas businesses and industry partners to identify suitable biomethane projects.

Biogas is mostly a mixture of carbon dioxide and (bio)methane, which is produced when waste matter is broken down in the absence of oxygen. The biomethane could be injected into our network and used for heating, cooking and energy.

It appeals to us because it is scalable and reliable, and we have the infrastructure to support it.

We are looking at domestic and international commercial models and technology to assess suitable projects in New South Wales. We are also becoming increasingly aware of our potential role in the circular economy.

The circular economy is when “waste” or end products are recycled or regenerated so they become the inputs for the next stage of the cycle. In the circular economy, resources are not a negative by-product, but an opportunity to develop sustainable economies.

By unlocking the value of agricultural, food processing, and/or municipal waste, and using it to generate energy instead of throwing it away, we can make sustainable and renewable biomethane accessible for our gas distribution customers.

This whole of lifecycle approach brings multiple benefits. In addition to the commercial advantages, the circular economy underpins investment in local infrastructure, creating jobs and supporting local businesses.

Additionally, these projects bring further environmental benefits by reducing landfill, providing thermal energy for local use and provide digestate (fertilisers)
for agriculture.

International learnings – local opportunities

Australia lags behind international comparisons of biomass activities. A recent Bioenergy Australia report1 found Australia to be in the bottom quartile for bioenergy contributions, placing 19 out of 24 OECD countries reviewed.

There are unique circumstances in Australia which may explain some of the disparities, however, we could clearly be doing more to learn from global case studies.

For example, Vera Park in Helsingborg, Sweden2 is one of the most comprehensive circular waste management industry parks in the world. Everything on the site is reused, and businesses on the former municipal waste facility now use waste as their raw material for commercial activities.

Sønderjysk Biogas Bevtoft in Denmark3 treats over 600,000 tons of biomass per year. The methane produced is upgraded to 99 per cent biomethane, which is directly injected into the gas grid. More than 51,000 tonnes of CO2 has been reduced, the equivalent annual energy consumption of 15,000 households or 10,000 cars.

The potential for Australia to implement some of these technologies is exciting and we want to be part of it.

Working with the waste industry

Jemena has commenced discussions with NSW waste-to-energy stakeholders to explore opportunities and we have connected with industry bodies such as Bioenergy Australia and the Future Fuels Cooperative Research Centre.

Waste-to-energy is exciting from a technology perspective, and also from a customer viewpoint. Early signs are that it can complement our portfolio and help deliver access to sustainable energy for homes and businesses. We are aiming to become an active player in the waste-to-energy sector in the next twelve to
18 months.

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