Markets: Biomass availability

Securing a constant, reliable, sustainable supply of biomass is a critical success factor for a bioenergy project.

Estimates of available biomass have been done at a number of levels.

Australia

Grain stubble

CSIRO suggests that in high production years many grain-growing areas could probably support stubble-based bioenergy facilities, but that in poor production years the areas that could reliably produce enough stubble are limited.

Bioenergy opportunities for grain growers were explored by CSIRO in 2008. They estimated that 65 Mt of stubble was produced in 2001, but only 29 Mt were potentially available for harvest after harvestability and sustainability considerations.

In poor years, they say, the amount of stubble potentially available for harvest could drop by 70% or more.

The greatest concentrations of stubble were found to be in:

  • the New South Wales Slopes
  • the Wimmera and Mallee in Victoria
  • the Yorke Peninsula and Eyre Peninsula regions of South Australia.

Each of these hotspots had several locations with potential for more than 500,000 tonnes of stubble to be harvested within 50 kilometres.

The availability of crop stubble as a potential biofuel resource was assessed by CSIRO in 2008.

Not much has been published about stubble production and the implications of harvesting it, they say.

The most common method of estimating stubble production, researchers say, is from grain yield data and knowledge about the ratio of grain to total above-ground biomass—this is known as the harvest index, or HI.

They used a survey of field trials reporting harvest index, ABS production statistics and APSIM simulations to assess how much biomass might be available in different regions and what factors might affect stubble production.

Although the harvest index varied between years and regions, robust spatial estimates of stubble production can be obtained from grain production data and harvest index.

In many farming systems, some stubble will be left to maintain soil cover, input to soil carbon or animal feed.

The amount of stubble potentially available for harvesting, they say, is considerably less than the total stubble production, and the amount likely to be worth harvesting on a regional basis will be even smaller.

New South Wales

New England biomass resources suitable for making wood pellets are identified in the 2013 report, Wood pellet stoves for pollution and greenhouse gas reduction (section 5.3), published by RIRDC. The report evaluates the benefits and barriers of establishing a wood pellet manufacturing plant in the area.

Biomass sources identified:
  • dead native trees
  • sawmill waste
  • plantation thinnings (silvicultural waste)
  • Recycled construction timber
  • urban ‘green debris’
  • wood from thinned farm woodlots or shelterbelts
  • purpose-grown firewood
  • native forest silvicultural waste
  • horticultural waste products such as olive pips and nut shells
  • woody weeds such as willow, pine, poplars, privet, box elder and honey locust.

South Australia

In March 2015, the Government of South Australia commissioned consultancy group Jacobs to analyse South Australia’s bioenergy potential and produce a report and associated spatial data as a first step towards creating a substantial and sustainable bioenergy industry.

The company investigated commercial conversion technologies, mapped potential biomass feedstocks for those technologies and explored the potential for new purpose-grown biomass crops.

By matching biomass feedstock information to companies with a demand for both electricity and heat, Jacobs arrived at a number of ‘hotspot’ areas in the state.

The report, A bio-energy roadmap for South Australia, and an interactive bioenergy roadmap were launched on 24 November 2015.

The interactive map shows locations of:
  • energy demand
  • waste streams
  • purpose-grown biomass crops
  • bioenergy hotspots.

Tasmania

3.3 million tonnes of biomass could be sourced for bioenergy from sustainable forestry in Tasmania, with nearly 70% coming from private land, according to a 2013 study that compared Tasmanian and European forests: Forest biomass for energy: Current and potential use in Tasmania and a comparison with European experience.

The biomass could come from:
  • native forest regrowth
  • plantations
  • wood-processing residues.
Economic, ecological and social implications of using forest biomass for energy are also described.

Dorset and Huon Valley biomass resources were estimated in 2012 as part of two bioenergy production pre-feasibility studies commissioned by the state government. The estimates are included in 2 reports:
  • Dorset Renewable Industries investigated opportunities for establishing a biofuel production plant in Scottsdale: Dorset Woody Biomass Pre-Feasibility Study 2013. They found that sufficient woody biomass is available within a 65 km radius of the township to sustainably supply a plant over a 20-year lifespan at the rate of 150,000 green tonnes a year.
  • Huon Valley Diversified Industries Incorporated investigated opportunities for establishing biofuel or bioenergy production in Huonville: Huon Woody Biomass Pre-Feasibility Study 2013. They found that sufficient woody biomass is available within a 34 km radius of the township to sustainably supply a plant over a 20-year lifespan at the rate of 150,000 green tonnes a year.

Victoria

Studies commissioned by the Victorian Government have explored the nature of Victoria’s biomass resources and their potential for development and expansion.

These studies include:

  • CSIRO’s Regional estimates of Victorian biomass resources, which consolidates and validates a series of studies conducted in each major Victorian region
  • the Victorian Department of Primary Industries’ 2011 research into the potential for bioenergy crop production on marginal and under-resourced land
  • URS’s 2010 study of biomass resources in Victoria’s timber industry.

Biomass availability is the subject of Chapter 5 of Fuelled for growth [PDF, 9.5 MB] which was prepared for Regional Development Victoria and is aimed at investors.

Estimated tonnes/year of available biomass are published for the following regions:

Western Australia

About 10 million tonnes of cereal straw, on average, are produced every year in Western Australia. This product has significant commercial potential.

An ethanol plant, of the type built in Crescentino in northern Italy, for example, could convert 220,000 tonnes of straw into 40,000 tonnes of ethanol.

The Department of Agriculture and Food is mapping potential biomass collection points in the wheatbelt, and can make this information available to investors.

Contacts

David Coote

University of Melbourne

Parkville, Vic 3010
Phone: 0419 509 822

dccoote@mira.net
Mohammad Reza Ghaffariyan

Forest Industries Research Centre (FIRC) University of the Sunshine Coast

Sippy Downs, Qld 4556
Phone: 07 5456 5447

mghaffar@usc.edu.au
John Meadows

Forest Industries Research Centre, University of the Sunshine Coast

Sippy Downs, Qld 4556
Phone: 0437 536 865

meadows@usc.edu.au
Dr Leigh Clemow

Manager Energy, Infrastructure Development, Regional Development Victoria

Level 11, 121 Exhibition Street, Melbourne, Victoria 3000,
Phone: (03) 9027 5438

leigh.clemow@rdv.vic.gov.au
Mary Lewitzka

RenewablesSA

RenewablesSA, Low Carbon Economy Unit, DPC, Level 16, 200 Victoria Square, Adelaide, SA
Phone: 087 8429 5084

mary.lewitzka@sa.gov.au
David Hurburgh

Tasmanian Department of State Growth

Manager - Resources and Energy, 22 Elizabeth St, Hobart, Tasmania
Phone: 03 6165 5238

David.Hurburgh@stategrowth.tas.gov.au