The crossroads of carbon and climate – the economy of meeting Australia’s climate targets

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Australia is stood at a crossroads of climate and carbon. While the federal government is yet to commit to net-zero emissions by 2050 formally, the European Union’s Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism may just change our current course.

There are two things that we know for sure. Firstly, it’s impossible to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 if we continue to use our resources the way we do today. And secondly, powering our economy and our industries while reducing carbon and emissions will require a delicate hand, where stability – economic and otherwise – is the top priority.

The challenge we face is that not all renewables are created equal. With battery storage still relatively rudimentary, delivering stability to the grid is not as easy as it sounds. The

fact is, the sun sets every day. We have periods of droughts and floods. And wind direction and strength are elements we simply cannot control.

Groups like the International Energy Association (IEA) suggest modern and sustainable forms of bioenergy, including biomass, play an essential role in helping us to achieve net-zero emissions, and address climate change.

While in its early stages in Australia, sustainable biomass to create renewable energy is already mainstream in other countries – like the United Kingdom, Scandinavia and Japan.

Good for the economy and good for the planet

So what exactly makes biomass sustainable? According to UN’s FCCC, renewable biomass is classed as such if it meets several requirements, for example, if it’s collected as part of routine forest management practices.

“In Australia, we are seeing increased interest in the use of sustainable forestry waste and sustainably sourced timber residues as a source for biomass. Not only is this an economically viable option – given this waste is treated as such – but it also supports Australia’s waste hierarchy whereby we reduce, re-use and recycle where we can, and recover energy or treat waste where we can’t. So the question for us to consider is, ‘when is waste really waste?’” waste management and biomass consultant Mike Haywood explained.

In its report addressing questions about the use of woody biomass, IEA Bioenergy explained it’s also a matter of timing. “Sustainable bioenergy is available now, and is compatible with our existing energy infrastructure, enabling immediate substitution of coal, natural gas or petroleum fuels.”

As economies explore precisely how to build back better following the blight of Covid-19, the concept of replacing fossil fuels with alternatives, right now, could be well placed.

IEA Bioenergy highlights that biomass does not use valuable or high-quality lumber (typically used for furniture). Instead, the matter used for bioenergy comprises thinnings, low-quality lumber, salvage wood, harvest logging residues, processing residues and wood waste that will not be used elsewhere. When left to biodegrade or combusted on-site (which is a typical waste management procedure in the industry today), this waste biomass emits greenhouse gasses (GHGs) in the same volume as if it were combusted for energy generation.

So is Australia sat on a goldmine of under-utilised renewable resources that could evolve our energy grid and our economy?

Australian renewables and biomass

While the growing uptake of solar and wind has likely changed biomass’ share of energy production figures, Australia’s Clean Energy Council considers biomass a renewable energy source.

Major Australian electricity provider Origin Energy (ASX:ORG) includes biomass in its GreenPower scheme, a government-accredited renewable electricity program.

It noted in 2017 that biomass – sourced primarily from sugarcane waste – accounts for nearly 1% of Australia’s electricity generation and about 11% of its renewable energy production.

Similarly, organisations like Verdant Earth Technologies have announced plans to stabilise Australia’s grid and power the supply of green hydrogen through waste wood residues.

Verdant Earth is currently in the process of modifying our energy generation operations in the Hunter Valley from using coal tailings to using sustainable waste biomass as our feedstock,” noted Verdant Earth Technologies CEO Richard Poole.

As part of this process, we are committed to ensuring our waste wood residues are sourced sustainably and are compliant with relevant legislation such as AFS regulations. We will only be using existing waste, and we will not harvest trees for power. Our goal is to put our waste to work, embedding waste-to-energy principles within our waste management practices,” Poole concluded.

Where do we go from here?

As the world around us commits to net-zero emissions, Australia must find a way to evolve our domestic reliance on fossil fuels and change our international reputation as coal mongers. Commitments to net-zero emissions by 2050 and concerted efforts to adjust to the European Union’s Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism are just the start.

We must act now to change our economy and our society.

According to the Energy Education Council, renewables, including solar and wind, are not suitable baseload power generators due to the variability associated with seasonal changes and daily conditions.

But there are other options as we transition away from fossil fuels. Scientific bodies, including Climate Works Australia, agree that the leap towards net-zero requires renewable energy sources, including sustainable biomass. Utilising waste biomass has the potential to reduce our landfill reliance, dependence on fossil fuels and close the loop on Australia’s valuable resources.

This space is undoubtedly unique. It’s evolving fast, filled with academics, foresters, politicians and environmentalists seeking to progress the movement as sustainably and practically as possible.

What we know is, change is coming. If not via the next federal election, it will occur to ensure Australia maintains its position in the global economy. So we’ll be watching this space with a keen eye.

This article was originally published by Stockhead, for additional information visit: https://stockhead.com.au/

 

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