For our cities that haven’t historically been short of space, non-recyclable waste is destined for landfill. Burying the seas of garbage we produce has been a cheap and easy way to make the problem go away – at least in the short term.
But as tipping fees rise to reflect their environmental impact, and suburbs sprawl into conflict with landfill sites, Australia is looking for new ways to dispose of materials that can’t be recycled.
In the search for answers, recycling heavyweight Germany provides a strong lead to follow.
Recycling more than 66 per cent of the waste they produced in 2015, the Germans are world leaders in turning rubbish into new products.
Any materials that cannot be turned into something new are diverted to energy from waste facilities, which thermally treat (aka burn) rubbish to create electricity.
Unrecognisable from toxic garbage incinerators of the past, these plants are equipped with sophisticated filtration systems to prevent harmful pollutants entering the environment.
Now, the technology is coming to Australia.
In an Australian-first, Macquarie Capital have announced that they will build an energy from waste project at the Kwinana Industrial Area, 40 km south of Perth.
ARENA is providing $23 million towards the $668 million project, which is on track to be completed by the end of 2021.
The plant will source non-recyclable materials from local councils in the Perth metropolitan area under long-term waste supply agreements, but can also process commercial, industrial, construction and demolition waste.
With capacity to recover energy from 400,000 tonnes of waste per year, the plant will divert up to a quarter of Perth’s post-recycling rubbish from landfill.
Able to deliver up to 36MW of dispatchable electricity capacity, grate technology will be installed to make the combustion process as efficient as possible. Similar systems are working in more than 2000 waste-to-energy facilities worldwide, with the Keppers Segel technology used in over 100 waste-to-energy plants in 18 countries.
AUSTRALIA FOLLOWS GLOBAL LEAD
Macquarie Capital have co-developed the project with Phoenix Energy. The facility will be owned by a consortium including Macquarie and Dutch Infrastructure Fund (DIF), and receive up to $90 million in debt financing from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.
To be built by Acciona and operated by Veolia, the plant is expected to generate more than 800 construction jobs and 60 full-time positions once it is up and running.
ARENA CEO Darren Miller said the project will reduce the amount of waste going to landfill while generating renewable energy.
“The use of combustion grate technology is well established in Europe and North America but has not yet been deployed in Australia,” Darren Miller said.
“More than 23 million tonnes of municipal solid waste is produced annually in Australia and this project could help to divert non-recyclable waste from landfill and recover energy in the process,” he said.
The Western Australian Environmental Protection Agency has already given it the green light. Plans are being developed to reuse the primary byproduct – ash – as road base or in building and construction.
HOW IS THIS BETTER THAN LANDFILL?
Out of sight, out of mind – landfill has been an easy way to dispose of garbage, but the reality is that it doesn’t disappear. Common plastics from household bins can take 1000 years to break down, leaving a toxic legacy for generations to come.
As well as toxins from the garbage itself, leachate is formed when water filters through waste as it breaks down. The highly toxic liquid pollutes the land, groundwater and flows into waterways. In addition, food scraps and organic matter disposed of in landfill release methane – a greenhouse gas 25 times stronger than carbon dioxide.
None of this is good for the environment. And it’s becoming a serious problem as landfills are consumed by Australia’s sprawling cities.
Incinerating waste and capturing the energy avoids the problems of landfill and creates valuable products – heat and electricity. Modern filtration systems prevent harmful pollutants from entering the environment, and these plants – when combined with a comprehensive recycling system – can form part of a waste system with negligible reliance on landfill.
Phoenix Energy’s system generates renewable electricity from steam produced by burning waste, with emissions passed through a scrubbing reactor, bag filter and catalytic reactor to bring concentrations below the allowed levels.
Macquarie Capital Executive Director Chris Voyce said the company looks forward to getting on and making the waste to energy plant a reality.
“The project is an example of the public and private sectors coming together to deliver a long-term solution to dual issues of dealing with the ever-growing pressures on landfill and generating low-carbon energies that are sustainable and reliable,” Chris Voyce said.
On behalf of the Australian Government, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) has announced $23 million in funding to develop an Australian-first energy-from-waste project in Western Australia which will reduce waste going to landfill.
Co-developed by Macquarie Capital (Australia) Limited and Phoenix Energy Australia Pty Ltd, the $668 million facility will be located in the Kwinana Industrial Area 40 km south of Perth.
The facility will recover energy from waste, delivering approximately 36 MW of baseload electricity capacity – enough to power 50,000 households.
The facility will divert up to 400,000 tonnes per year of municipal solid waste from non-recyclable curbside collection.
The plant will also be capable of processing commercial and industrial waste and construction and demolition waste.
The waste will be sourced from a range of sources including local councils in the Perth metropolitan area.
The project has the ability to generate large scale generation certificates (LGCs) for eligible feedstock in accordance with Clean Energy Regulator requirements.
The project has approval from the WA Environmental Protection Authority. The facility will produce an ash by-product which is commonly used as road base or in building and construction in Europe.
The project will use Keppel Seghers moving grate technology, which has not been previously used in Australia. This technology is used in more than 2000 facilities globally, with Keppel Seghers technology used in more than 100 waste-to-energy plants in 18 countries.
The Kwinana energy-from-waste facility will be owned by a consortium including Macquarie and the Dutch Infrastructure Fund (DIF). The Clean Energy Finance Corporation is also committing up to $90 million in debt finance towards the project.
The project will be built by Acciona and will be operated by Veolia.
The project is expected to generate more than 800 jobs during construction and 60 full-time jobs once operational.
Construction is expected to commence this month and is expected to be completed by the end of 2021.
Energy from waste developments present an opportunity to source baseload electricity from a low emissions intensity source, while addressing waste management issues.
ARENA carries out life cycle analysis on all bioenergy projects in order to ensure it only funds projects that deliver a net benefit in terms of emissions reduction.
ARENA CEO Darren Miller said the project provides a renewable energy solution for reducing waste going to landfill.
“The use of combustion grate technology is well established in Europe and North America but has not yet been deployed in Australia.
“More than 23 million tonnes of municipal solid waste is produced annually in Australia and this project could help to divert non-recyclable waste from landfill and recover energy in the process,” Mr Miller said.
Macquarie Capital Executive Director Chris Voyce said: “The project is an example of the public and private sectors coming together to deliver a long-term solution to dual issues of dealing with the ever-growing pressures on landfill and generating low-carbon energies that are sustainable and reliable.
“We look forward to working with our team of financiers, and design, construction and operation specialists as we deliver this significant project for the community.”
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Boral’s six hardwood timber mills on the New South Wales north coast produce a lot of wood waste – as much as 50,000 tonnes each, every year.
Currently used for landscaping, boiler fuel and other low-value applications, Boral today announced a plan to explore the viability of turning the waste sawmill byproducts into renewable diesel, bitumen and asphalt.
ARENA is supporting the project, providing $500,000 towards a $1.2 million feasibility study at Boral’s Heron’s Creek timber mill near Port Macquarie.
The study will include a trial of the technology at demonstration scale in Spain, initial design works for the full-scale plant, exploration of the regulatory challenges and development of the business case.
If the 12 month study is successful, Boral aim to scale the pilot up to convert 50,000 tonnes of sawmill waste into transport-grade renewable diesel and bitumen. As Australia’s largest building and construction supplier, they use a lot of both.
Steve Dadd, Executive General Manager of Boral Timber, said the high-grade diesel and bitumen produced at the proposed biorefinery could meet 15 per cent of its total needs, while capitalising on a resource which is currently wasted.
“We have to do a lot more and value the whole log,” Steve Dadd said.
He describes Boral’s philosophy of respecting the hardwood resources that are processed at six of its seven NSW mills, seeing the trial as a step in the journey to: “cherish the resource, take all of that biomass and use every skerric of it.”
Boral’s renewable diesel and asphalt plan was developed to address three major operational challenges. The first is the enormous amount of leftover biomass from the timber industry going to waste and low value uses. “The industry economics can’t support all that waste.” he said.
The second is the rising cost of energy. “The cost of gas, electricity and eventually diesel and petrol will be a challenge for industry generally, not just for Boral,” he said.
The third challenge Dadd identifies is environmental. “Unless we do something about global warming and move to more sustainable energy uses, we’ve potentially got a serious problem,” he said.
ARENA is supporting Boral to convert its significant volumes of timber waste to valuable biodiesel and asphalt products, which they use a lot of.
If the study is successful, Boral plan to scale the project up to a commercial scale plant which could process 50,000 tonnes of biomass annually – roughly equivalent to the quantity of annual wood waste leftover by the largest timber mill.
Boral projects that volume of timber residues should create approximately 16 million litres of diesel and 8,000 tonnes of bitumen.
“If we get the processes right, it could be very efficient,” he said.
Using approximately 100 million litres of diesel annually across its truck fleet, the biodiesel created would represent a significant reduction in fuel costs. The renewable fuel will be high quality, with potential to power modern diesel cars as well as the fleet of large trucks.
Referring to NSW Government research that shows as much as one million tonnes of surplus biomass could available to be turned into renewable fuel every year, Steve Dadd predicts a bright future for the biofuel industry.
“That could be the feedstock for a well-scaled bioenergy industry. It’s a real opportunity to take advantage of that surplus biomass and convert it into very high value products.
ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht said the project is one example of Australian businesses embracing renewable energy.
“Bioenergy is on the rise. This new technology could pave the way for Boral to reduce its reliance on diesel and bitumen derived from fossil fuels, and utilise waste products left over from production processes,” Ivor Frischknecht said.
He explained, “While today bioenergy only makes up a small part of Australia’s energy mix, that is changing as major businesses embrace renewables to reduce costs and lighten their environmental footprint.
This has benefits for industries currently dependent on fossil fuels: “Renewable liquid fuels provide the best opportunity to decarbonise heavy transport sectors, including aviation, shipping and trucking, which are difficult to electrify,” he said.
“We hope Boral’s trial is successful and leads other companies to build biorefinaries to turn waste materials into valuable products.”
The Mid North Coast of New South Wales could become home to the world’s first biorefinery turning sawmill residues into renewable diesel and renewable bitumen.
On behalf of the Australian Government, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) has announced up to $500,000 in funding to Boral Timber, a subsidiary of Boral Limited, to investigate the feasibility of building a ‘second-generation’ biofuels refinery using the waste sawmill residues from the Boral Timber Hardwood Sawmill at Herons Creek near Port Macquarie.
Under the $1.2 million study, Boral will explore the technical and financial viability of establishing a biorefinery using innovative technology, which would be located near the Herons Creek sawmill.
If the study is successful, the proposed biorefinery, which would cost an estimated $50 million to build, could convert up to 50,000 tonnes of waste sawmill residue produced each year into transport-grade renewable diesel and bitumen.
The sawmill residue – which includes sawdust, remnant woodchips, shavings and offcuts – is currently used for lower value uses such as landscaping and boiler fuel.
The study will consider a mechanical catalytic conversion technology, developed by Spanish-based Global Ecofuel Solutions SL, combined with the potential biorefinery at Herons Creek and will be the first time the process would be used in a production scale facility.
ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht said the project further shows that big businesses are increasingly moving towards renewable energy solutions.
“The transport sector is a significant user of energy in Australia, with liquid fuels a key long term energy source for heavy-vehicle road and air transport since they cannot readily be electrified. Bioenergy comprises a growing proportion of Australia’s energy mix, and this new technology could see residue from the production process be used to reduce Boral’s reliance on diesel and bitumen derived from fossil fuels,” he said.
“If this ground-breaking technology is successful, we hope to see a transition to similar biorefineries by other companies which have a waste stream in forestry or agriculture,” Mr Frischknecht said.
Boral Executive General Manager (Building Products) Wayne Manners said that if the feasibility study was successful, the transport-grade renewable diesel produced at the potential new biorefinery could eventually account for up to 15 per cent of Boral’s annual diesel needs.
Boral is one of the largest consumers of bitumen and has one of the largest truck fleets in Australia, using approximately 100 million litres of diesel each year.
“The application of this technology has the potential to transform the way we use low value hardwood sawmill residues into a resource that could be highly valuable not just to Boral but to the industry more generally,” he said.
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Led by Southern Oil Refining, the project has set out to create crude oil from biosolids at their plant near Gladstone in Queensland, which can then be further refined.
Australia produces a lot of ‘biosolids’. Left over from the wastewater treatment process, the term describes solids that remain once sewage sludge has been treated to remove the worst of the pathogens and other nasties.
Hundreds of thousands of tonnes of the soil-like solids are created every year, much of which is stockpiled, landfilled or diverted to other low value uses such as fertiliser.
The Australian Renewable Energy Agency is providing up to $4 million to get the project off the ground, seeing potential to make use of a waste product while also decarbonising the transport fuel sector.
Costing a total of $11.8 million, the project’s centrepiece is a demonstration scale hydrothermal liquefaction reactor which will convert wastewater solids into biocrude, which can then be refined further into diesel or even jet fuel.
The pilot will take place at Southern Oil’s Northern Oil Advanced Biofuels Pilot Plant in Yarwun outside of Gladstone, where a biofuel and biocrude laboratory was constructed in 2015 with funding from ARENA and the Queensland Government.
Southern Oil Refining have used the laboratory to determine the best ways to make useable biofuel from biocrudes, as well as undertake research to inform their entrance into the commercial fuels markets.
The two-year pilot could be scaled up to a commercial scale, if the demonstration project goes well – opening up the potential for sewage sludge across the country to be converted into oil that can in turn be refined into diesel.
The process isn’t new – biomass was first converted to crude during the oil crisis in the late 1970s, but the technology is coming back into focus as demand builds to create renewable transport fuels with smaller environmental footprints.
Managing Director of Southern Oil Refining Tim Rose predicts a bright future for biofuels on the back of their pilot.
“With waste water treatment stockpiles across the country, this project is entirely scalable and I believe will ultimately lead to the production of hundreds of millions of litres of renewable fuel each year in Australia,” Tim Rose said.
Southern Oil plan to refine crude oil created into high-quality renewable biofuels which can be used in place of conventional petrols.
“This ARENA funding will facilitate Australia’s largest ever demonstration scale reactor using wastewater treatment biosolids to produce renewable crude oil. We will then refine this crude oil into 100 per cent drop-in renewable fuels” Tim Rose said.
“This outcome would greatly benefit the environment, be tremendous for the economy while improving Australia’s fuel security” he added.
Keen to find new uses for the growing stockpiles from their processing facilities in Werribee and Carrum Downs, Melbourne Water Corporation are partnering on the project.
Melbourne Water have more than three million cubic metres of biosolids stocked across the two treatment plants, which they have committed to finding ways to reuse to avoid further stockpiling.
Feedstock for the demonstration project will be sourced close to Southern Oil’s Gladstone plant, but in future the process could be scaled up to take advantage of the Melbourne Water Corporation’s significant volume of byproduct.
ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht said the project offered a new opportunity to a divert waste product into a renewable source of energy.
“A crucial service like wastewater treatment unfortunately produces a significant amount of waste, so we’re particularly excited to see Southern Oil Refining’s project deliver an option to divert this biosolid waste into a recycled, renewable form of crude oil,” he said.
According to the Climate Council, transport is Australia’s third largest source greenhouse gas emissions and has the highest rate of growth.
“The project is beneficial in continuing to provide decarbonation in the transport fuel sector, particularly in the airline industry with the production of renewable jet fuel, which is a key focus area in ARENA’s Exporting Renewable Energy Priority,” Ivor Frischknecht said.
Melbourne Water’s Manager of Treatment and Resources Jenelle Watson said she was excited to partner with Southern Oil Refining and ARENA to develop the technology to a commercial scale.
“The hydrothermal liquefaction technology has so much potential to extract value from biosolids and contribute to the renewable fuels market,” she said.
The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) today announced funding for a pioneering project aiming to turn biosolids from sewage into crude oil.
On behalf of the Australian Government, ARENA is providing up to $4 million in funding to Southern Oil Refining for its pilot project at its refinery near Gladstone, Queensland.
The $11.8 million project involves building a demonstration scale hydrothermal liquefaction reactor to produce the renewable crude oil from biosolids. The hydrothermal liquefaction will involve the treatment of the biosolids using a thermochemical conversion process to produce a biocrude.
The renewable crude oil will then be upgraded to renewable diesel and potentially renewable jet fuel using Southern Oil Refining’s existing facilities that re-refine waste oils such as transmission and engine oils.
Biosolids are a byproduct of the treatment of wastewater. There are currently over 300,000 tonnes of biosolids produced annually through sewage treatment in Australia. Currently these biosolids are managed and treated in a number of ways including stockpiling.
Southern Oil has partnered with Melbourne Water and will use stockpiled biosolids at Melbourne Water’s wastewater treatment facility at Werribee, Victoria so as to characterise the crude oil that is produced from those particular biosolids. The project will also utilise biosolids from a local sewage treatment facility. The demonstration is the first step to developing biosolid waste to renewable fuel plants at sewage treatment plants in Australia.
ARENA has previously funded Southern Oil Refining to build a first-of-its-kind biocrude and biofuel laboratory and testing facility built onsite at Gladstone as part of its advanced biofuel pilot plant.
ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht said the project offered further opportunities for waste diversion while also helping with Australia’s fuel security.
“A crucial service like wastewater treatment unfortunately produces a significant amount of leftover waste, so we’re particularly excited to see Southern Oil Refining’s project deliver an option to divert biosolids into a recycled, renewable form of energy.
“Biosolids are produced at sewage treatment facilities across the country, and often stockpiled so this project could literally turn waste that into fuel,” he said.
Managing Director of Southern Oil Refining, Mr Tim Rose, further highlighted the national implications of ARENA’s commitment to this project.
“This ARENA funding will facilitate Australia’s largest ever demonstration scale reactor using wastewater treatment biosolids to produce renewable crude oil. We will then refine this crude oil into 100 per cent drop in renewable fuels” he said.
“With waste water treatment stockpiles across the country, this project is entirely scalable and I believe will ultimately lead to the production of hundreds of millions of litres of renewable fuel each year in Australia. This outcome would greatly benefit the environment, be tremendous for the economy while improving Australia’s fuel security,” he added.
Melbourne Water’s Manager of Treatment and Resources Jenelle Watson said: “The hydrothermal liquefaction technology has so much potential to extract value from biosolids and contribute to the renewable fuels market. Melbourne Water is excited to be partnering with Southern Oil Refining and ARENA to develop hydrothermal liquefaction to a commercial scale.”
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The makers of premium canola oil and stock feed hope to annually save 2,500kL of LPG by converting their plant to run on to biomass, allowing them to take control of rising energy costs and reduce their emissions.
The project is one of the first demonstrations of a large-scale food manufacturing company using biomass for thermal energy to reduce their costs and environmental impact, receiving $2 million in funding from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA).
Less than one per cent of Australia’s electricity needs are met by bioenergy, but the CSIRO have found that organic sources could provide as much as 20 per cent of Australia’s electricity supply in the short-term.
Queensland’s sugar industry currently accounts for around two-thirds of Australia’s bioenergy production, using biomass in the form of leftover cane mulch to power boilers and create electricity.
ARENA is funding projects to capture energy from a range of waste materials, including sewage, meat processing leftovers, landfill and organic litter.
How will it work?
MSM Milling have set out to use wood products leftover from the nearby Cyprus Pine industry to fuel their boilers to create heat, which will be used throughout the canola processing facility.
The timber industry has established markets for high-quality wood, but branches, offcuts, forest thinnings and sawdust go to waste.
To minimise costs the oilseed crushing and processing plant will run on woodchips and other raw residues, avoiding the added costs associated with pelletising waste timber.
The refit is the first example of a major food processor converting from gas to bioenergy, which MSM Millings director Bob Mac Smith says will lead the way for other Australian manufacturers to adopt renewable energy.
“Biomass isn’t new in itself, but biomass on an industrial scale and in a food processing facility is novel in Australia,” Mr Mac Smith said.
“There will be an 80,000 tonne reduction in CO2 emissions over a 20 year time span, and that’s a conservative estimate.”
Bob Mac Smith says MSM Milling face geographic challenges, currently trucking LPG to their Manildra plant which isn’t connected to the gas grid.
“These things have to be highly efficient to work, you need to have the fuel supply closeby, you need to have fuel handling automated… there’s a whole lot of technology that needs to be put together to make this work. A lot of R and D has gone into this because there aren’t turn-key, off the shelf solutions available.
Bob Mac Smith says the forestry waste and sawmill by products will be sourced from within 120kms of their Manildra canola processing facility.
“Being a regional area there are sources of fuel available. In this case it’s thinnings from forest management, there’s also waste or residue from sawmills,” he said.
MSM Milling has received ARENA support to demonstrate that that bioenergy works in large-scale food production applications and overcome ‘early adopter’ costs.
Demand building to save money with waste to energy
ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht said the $2 million grant will help to grow the underdeveloped biomass industry in Australia.
“Bioenergy currently makes up only around 0.9 per cent of Australia’s energy mix, however the use of wood residues to displace gas is becoming attractive as buyers and consumers are increasingly demanding better environmental performance across product supply chains.
“We hope MSM Milling’s innovation will lead to more industries turning to biomass in a move which could increase renewable energy generation in NSW and Australia and create alternative value streams for materials once considered surplus to requirements,” he said.