What is bioenergy?

Bioenergy is produced from organic matter, also known as biomass. Common biomass sources include crops, forests, grasses and waste. Most biomass releases carbon dioxide (CO₂) when converted into bioenergy. This CO₂ can be reabsorbed through photosynthesis during the regrowth of biomass crops.

What can bioenergy be used for?

Bioenergy can be used to generate electricity and heat, or produce liquid fuels for transport. The simultaneous generation of electricity and heat is called cogeneration and is common in bioelectricity production.

Combustion processes convert biomass to heat energy, which can be used for heating or to generate electricity. Chemical processing can convert biomass into liquid fuels, such as ethanol and biodiesel, which can be used for transport or electricity generation. Anaerobic digestion of biomass (that is, microorganisms breaking down materials in an oxygen-free environment) produces biogas, composed mainly of CO₂ and methane. This can also be used in power generation, or combusted for heating.

Are there bioenergy resources in NSW?

There are extensive bioenergy resources in the large and well established agricultural and forestry areas across the state. NSW also has a large urban population that generates significant urban waste resources, landfill and sewage gas.

Biomass potential in 2030 for 12 NSW Statistical Divisions

How is bioenergy used in NSW?

Currently, there are 34 operational bioenergy power generators, and in 2015 they produced 1.5% of the total electricity generated in NSW (including ACT). The majority of NSW’s bioenergy currently comes from bagasse. Two sugar mills have installed cogeneration plants which produce electricity and heat from bagasse. The Broadwater Sugar Mill is the largest bioenergy electricity generation project in NSW and fifth largest in Australia. It has a 38 MW capacity. The Condong Sugar Mill has a 30 MW capacity. Several other sugar mills use bagasse-produced electricity for sugar milling and refining processes. Some other examples of electricity producing bioenergy facilities include:

  • Tumut Visy Paper Bioenergy Facility (32 MW capacity) uses black liquor, a residual waste from paper manufacturing, to power the paper mill and returns any excess electricity to the grid.
  • The two Lucas Heights bioenergy power stations (22.7 MW combined capacity) use landfill gases to produce electricity.
  • Eight of Sydney Water’s wastewater treatment and water recycling plants have cogeneration facilities to convert sewage gases into electricity (9.9 MW combined capacity).
  • EarthPower Technologies was Australia’s first facility to use anaerobic digestion to convert food waste into biogas (3.9 MW capacity).

There are currently only two biofuel producing facilities in NSW. The first is a 20 million litre capacity plant in Rutherford, which produces biodiesel from used cooking oil and vegetable oils. The second is the Manildra Ethanol Plant in Nowra, which produces ethanol from starch. The plant has a capacity of 300 million litres, which is enough energy for about 100 000 cars for a year.

Broadwater Sugar Mill

Broadwater Sugar Mill. Photo courtesy of John Holt.

Tweed Valley sugar cane

Young sugar cane in the Tweed Valley. Photo courtesy of Craig Bishop.

What is the future of bioenergy in NSW?

Electricity generation from biomass, particularly agricultural waste, and landfill and sewage gases, is relatively well established. However there is still significant potential to provide a greater source of power generation, including during peak demand. Production of biofuels is expected to be important in improving fuel security whilst reducing environmental impacts.

Glossary

bagasse

sugar cane waste

biomass

organic materials such as crops, forests, grasses and waste

capacity

the amount of energy generated for any length of time. This map indicates capacity as a megawatt (MW).

energy

the ability to do ‘work’ or to ‘make something happen’. It can exist in different forms, such as thermal (heat), kinetic, electrical, chemical and potential (stored). Energy is measured in
joules (J).

direct employment

fulltime equivalent of employment hours (FTE)

megawatt (MW)

one MW = one million (1 000 000) watts

photosynthesis

the process used by plants and other organisms to convert light energy into chemical energy

transmission

the movement of electricity along transmission lines once it leaves the power station

watt

a measure of the flow rate of electricity, equivalent to one joule of energy per second. One joule is the internationally recognised unit for measuring energy of all types.

For further information
Geological Survey of New South Wales
Phone:
+61 (0)2 4931 6666
Fax:
+61 (0)2 4931 6700
renewableenergy.map@industry.nsw.gov.au
Postal:
PO Box 344, Hunter Region Mail Centre NSW 2310
Office:
Geoscience Information Map