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Australia's billion-dollar bioenergy industry continues to be ignored says Bioenergy Australia

Bioenergy Australia has released its "Bioenergy State of the Nation Report", the first state-of-the-nation assessment of the sector. The report identifies Australia’s significant bioenergy opportunity and provides criteria for kick-starting the bioenergy economy. According to the report, the opportunity for the country is significant and multi-faceted, offering an AU$3.5-5 billion investment opportunity, mostly in regional economies, which the Australian government is being urged to address.

Shahana McKenzie, CEO, Bioenergy Australia, launching the new Bioenergy State of the Nation Report for national media and MPs at Parliament House in Canberra (photo courtesy Bioenergy Australia).

Produced in collaboration with KPMG Australia, the report Bioenergy State of the Nation Report launched by the national bioenergy trade association Bioenergy Australia shows that Queensland is the national leader while Australia as a country lags behind globally with no national strategy.

The report reviews the policies of states and territories in order to share learning and facilitate policy transfer across Australia, with much to be gained through adoption of ‘best practice’ approaches throughout Australia. For example, Queensland has adopted a number of successful policies which can be adapted and deployed to drive bioenergy uptake across the country, said Shahana McKenzie, CEO, Bioenergy Australia.

Bioenergy is generated from the conversion of solid and liquid biomass products for use as electricity, heat, gas, liquid fuels and bio-based products and delivers a range of benefits such as employment and economic development of rural/agricultural communities, energy security, utilisation of waste streams and reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

Shadow Minister for Climate and Energy, the Hon Mark Butler MP gave a speech at the report launch noting that lack of vision, policy and commitment has stifled the sector.

There are huge opportunities for Australia to embrace bioenergy. I welcome this important report from KPMG and look forward to working with Bioenergy Australia in this exciting transition, said Minister Butler.

Call for national vision and strategy

McKenzie explained that what differentiates Queensland as the clear leader is they have identified bioenergy as a huge opportunity for their state and have developed a vision to capitalise on it. In addition, their policy objectives are better defined and more aligned to the bioenergy sector compared to other states and territories, with strong evidence of advocacy of the benefits and opportunities from bioenergy.

While the Federal Government has implemented mechanisms to reduce carbon emissions, such as the Renewable Energy Target and Emissions Reduction Fund, a national vision, policy objectives and/or policy levers would unlock Australia’s bioeconomy.

This report indicates from a local and global level these factors are critical to the development of a bio-economy, with the potential to positively impact big issues for Australia such as emissions, utilisation of waste streams and regional growth.

An overlooked and very important consequence of the “climate wars” in the last couple of decades has been the failure of governments to develop a comprehensive national waste and bioenergy strategy. This is particularly hard to understand and accept given our national addiction to the barbaric environmental practice of landfilling, the lack of a fuel security strategy, the failure of both State and Federal governments to design and implement effective regional policies, and the availability of a host of proven and commercial technology solutions. Short-term politics has again served to only squander significant growth and employment opportunities, said Dr John Hewson, former Liberal party leader.

State and Territory Overview Report assessments were based on bioenergy performance measured against five evaluation criteria: Policy development and effectiveness, bioenergy project development, technology and feedstock, sustainability guidance, advocacy and education.

Wayne Swan MP, Susan Templeman MP, Dr John Hewson, Joel Fitzgibbon MP, Mark Butler MP, Brian Mitchell MP and Pat Conroy MP (photo courtesy Bioenergy Australia).

The majority of the 179 commissioned bioenergy projects are in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria (77 percent) and the main technologies comprise of biomass combustion for heat and /or power (56 percent) and anaerobic digestion (AD) for biogas production for heat and /or power (29 percent).

However, the report highlights that all states are lacking diversification across feedstock and technology, and most projects produce electricity as an output, which a national vision could transform.

Queensland is driving the bioenergy agenda on a number of fronts and should be commended for the incredible work happening across the state. They have a government who recognises bioenergy as a priority industry, actively rolling out new projects through the delivery of the Biofutures Roadmap and Biofutures Program, McKenzie said.

Australia falling behind

Despite the progress in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria, the report finds Australia to be in the bottom quartile for bioenergy contribution globally, lagging behind other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries ranking 19 out of 24 reviewed.

She explained there were a host of global initiatives identified to inspire Australia in the report; from committed targets for renewables to investment support and renewable heat incentives. The report noted Sweden has a landfill ban for organic waste and the US has loan guarantees for the establishment of biorefineries.

The global disparity in contribution we see is concerning, particularly with the ambitious targets set for emissions reduction by the marine and aviation industries. There are massive changes ahead to the fuel mix globally and we sit well behind at four percent of total energy consumption for biomass energy or fuel purposes versus the EU’s 10 percent. There is a new industry waiting to be developed for biochemicals which can replace the need for fossil-fuel based derivatives entirely. If we don’t seize this opportunity we will be left behind and end up importing what could be made locally, with significant economic and environmental impacts, McKenzie emphasied.

A recently released market analysis and forecast report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) predicted modern bioenergy will, over the next five years, have the biggest increase in renewable energy consumption, driving 30 percent of global renewable energy consumption growth.

Getting the Bioenergy Australia message across on biofuels and ethanol (photo courtesy Shahana McKenzie).

McKenzie explained as with any emerging sector, government support plays an important role in removing barriers and accelerating the development of new projects.

There is no shortage of viable options we can implement to drive us forward, and we hope the Bioenergy Australia State of the Nation report can be this force for change in the sector so Australia can leverage the wide-ranging potential benefits of a bioeconomy before it’s too late, ended Shahana McKenzie.

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