Economic benefits of biomass examined
The Federal Government has released two reports into the future of biomass in the Australian economy.
Releasing the reports, Innovation Minister Senator Kim Carr said that research on converting biomass into materials such as fuel, plastic and chemicals can help Australian industries reduce their reliance on imported petrochemicals.
“Developments in biomass research could help feed the demand for clean energies, create high-skilled jobs in regional areas and increase economic activity in local communities” Senator Carr said.
“The reports show how we can build on the existing $11 million investment the Government is making in biomass research infrastructure. We can utilise Australian biomass beyond using it for biofuels only.”
The Biorefinery Scoping Study: Tropical Biomass report found that the transition from petrochemical-based feedstocks to renewable sustainable feedstocks is “already evident” in major companies around the world and that industrial biotechnology is already considered a viable commercial alternative to petrochemicals.
The report identifies four major opportunities for Australia in the field:
- Establish an industrial biotechnology sector based on agricultural feedstocks;
- Value-add and diversify existing agricultural products and stabilise revenues from the sector;
- Generate global export revenues, especially from the burgeoning Asian markets; and
- Secure a reputation as a global centre for industrial biotechnology and bio-based manufacturing
This Study suggests a staged route to establishing an Australian bio-based sector. The first stage needs to be one which provides the lowest investment risk, lowest technical hurdles, short time to revenues (3-5 years) and clear route to market. This may be achieved by means of an international chemicals or technology company which:
- brings proprietary technology, process engineering skills and know-how;
- establishes a facility co-located with feedstock supply; and
- manufactures at volumes to meet the Asian export market.
The Scoping Biorefineries: Temperate Biomass Value Chains report finds that Australia is well positioned to captialise on the biomass industry, with access to 20 million tonnes per year of biomass, which is expected to rise to 35 million tonnes by 2020.
The report finds that establishing biorefineries will have significant effects in;
- mitigating climate change through significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions;
- reducing reliance on imported, dwindling and increasing costly fossil fuels (estimates of A$44B import disparity by 2030);
- reducing reliance on imported chemicals and plastics (current disparity of over $12B between imports and exports) and providing a chemical plastics industry focused on renewable resources and
- providing opportunities to replace up to 85% of key plastics and chemicals produced from non‐renewable resources
The report also finds that establishing biorefineries and biomass transformation value chains offer a pathway to deliver;
- jobs security for the forestry and chemical industries;
- food security;
- energy security;
- regional development; and
- sustainable farming and forestry practices
The reports were commissioned as part of the National Enabling Technologies Strategy which helps Australian industries capitalise on growth opportunities and fosters responsible development of enabling technologies.
The reports were written, in consultation with the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, by Parratt & Associates and Corelli Consulting respectively The reports are the first to consider both the establishment of Australian biomass based industries and the supporting policy framework.
The reports can be downloaded here