Thursday 19 April 2012

Hansard of the Legislative Council


Forest Biomass Energy Industry

Mr FINCH (Rosevears)- Thank you to the honourable member for Huon for bringing on the discussion about biomass. I am convinced and I think it is fairly obvious that some time in the future Tasmania will be producing electric power from forest residue. It is a proven technology, but presently it is not competitive with fossil fuels for power generation. Yes, the forest residue is free, but handling it, transporting it, processing it and burning it is expensive. Certainly, Madam President, granting renewable energy certificates for bio-energy projects would make forest biomass energy more competitive, but I still doubt that it would be as economic as power generated from fossil fuels, even though it has the great advantage of being renewable. But who knows what the future might bring in respect of advancing technology?

However, that is no reason not to grant renewable energy certificates. I believe the Federal Government should look at this issue again, so I do support this motion. Those arguing for forestry biomass power generation cite the example of Sweden, as we heard from Andrew Lang, particularly, in our briefing yesterday. Forest residue provides 20 per cent of all energy consumption in Sweden, including wood-fired district heating systems satisfying more than half of the residential heat demand. However, Sweden, of course, has no domestic oil or fossil fuels and about 60 per cent of the country is covered by managed forests. One incentive is the very high carbon tax on oil and coal use. That is about $150 per tonne of carbon dioxide produced. Sweden and Finland are both fine examples of efficient forest biomass energy industries. For the above reasons they are not really comparable to Tasmania but that is not a reason not to have a much closer study of forest biomass energy here and a system of renewable energy certificates. The certificates have been opposed because of the fear that a forest biomass energy industry would lead to mass forest felling. Those who argue along these lines point to the Tasmanian woodchip industry. They cite the early justification for the industry, that it would only involve waste from sawlog harvesting operations. They say that wood chipping eventually dominated the industry. They fear that a similar thing could happen if the bioenergy industry was established to use forest waste. However, the Standing Committee on Agriculture, Resources, Fisheries and Forestry chaired by the Federal Member for Lyons, Dick Adams, and supported along the way by some people who I will not care to name in case I have my facts wrong, in its report on the Australia forestry industry and biomass sourced electricity said, and I will use the same quote that the member for Huon used:

'Bioenergy sourced from native forest biomass should continue to qualify as renewable energy, where it is a true waste product and it does not become a driver for harvesting native forest.'

It is likely in the future that most potential residue for a bioenergy industry will come not from native forests but from tree plantation harvesting and other forms of biomass. It is also likely that a new process will be involved known as pyrolysis. Pyrolysis is coming closer to commercial reality in Australia. One company developing this process is called Pacific Pyrolysis and it has been offered $4.5 million by the Victorian Government to pilot a commercial-scale production facility in Melbourne.

The project will demonstrate Pac Pyro's proprietary technologies ability to deliver a solution for urban green and wood waste by converting it into renewable electricity and biochar. I am going to get a little bit technical here but I want to get it on Hansard.

Mr Wilkinson - We like it when you are technical.

Mr FINCH - Thank you. Slow pyrolysis is the heating up of biomass in the absence of oxygen so that it thermally decomposes without burning. The volatile components of the biomass are given off and this is combustible gas stream called SIM gas. It is then cleaned up to a quality that can be utilised in gas engine generators for electricity production or in many thermal-energy applications such as driers or boilers.

Members interjecting.

Mr FINCH - I knew the technical part would involve some interjections. The solid remaining after what is called the devolitalisation of the biomass is called char. The processing results in a dense carbon structure of what is known as conjugated aromatic rings which has a highly developed surface area.

But wait, there is more, and I am cutting to the chase. When this char product is utilised as a soil amendment it is referred to as biochar. The greenhouse gas balances across slow pyrolysis projects have garnered a lot of interest because they have the potential to be carbon negative, that is, to remove carbon from the atmosphere. Apologies again, Madam President, for being technical but I want to point out that this process has great potential benefits for us here in Tasmania. So, we should be watching its development very closely.

Mrs Taylor - Through you, Madam President - the pyrolysis - thank you for the explanation because it was really good - it is exactly the process that I talked about last year in a previous debate and that is being used for municipal waste in Toyohashi in Japan. It is not new. It is new to us.

Mr FINCH - Yes, new to us.

Mrs Taylor - It is proven technology.

Mr FINCH - I will be watching with interest, this development in Melbourne, where they have been given the grants, the money, to develop more successfully there.

Madam President, the motion before us speaks specifically of residues. Residues at the moment are burnt without providing a single watt of useful energy and on that basis I think the motion should be supported.