Bioenergy

19 January 2015

In Australia, over two thirds of our bioenergy is sourced from sugarcane waste.1

Bioenergy is energy produced from recently living organic matter, known as biomass.

Biomass can also be converted into liquid (biofuels) and gaseous fuels (biogas) to power electricity generation and heating systems and to provide fuel for transportation.

Biomass can be any plant or animal matter, but six types are generally used to produce energy.  


Types of biomass

wood chips illustration

Wood waste
Bark, sawdust and straw.

black liquor illustration

Black liquor
By-product formed during paper manufacturing.

biogas illustration

Biogas
Composed mainly of methane and is captured from landfill sites and sewage plants.

energy crops illustration

Energy crops
Crops grown specifically for energy production, like algae and grass.

commercial crops illustration

Commercial crop residues
Sugarcane (bagasse), sweet sorghum, wheat and vegetable oils such as sunflower and canola.

municipal waste illustration

Municipal solid waste
Household garbage and prunings.


Why biomass isn't a fossil fuel

Biomass and fossil fuels differ mostly in age. Yes, they are both formed from once-living matter, but the organisms that form fossil fuels lived and absorbed carbon millions of years ago under different environmental conditions.

When fossil fuels are burned, the carbon is released into the atmosphere, but it takes millions of years to be re-absorbed and form new fossil fuels. This means that fossil fuels are adding more carbon to the atmosphere than what is being removed.

Because biomass has a shorter lifecycle, the carbon released when it’s burned is the same amount absorbed during its lifetime.2 The process of producing (growing, harvesting) and converting the biomass does not produce any extra carbon dioxide. This is known as a closed carbon loop and qualifies biomass as a carbon-neutral energy source.

bioenergy carbon loop

Source: New South Wales Department of Trade and Investment 2013.3

Another big difference

The other big difference between biomass and fossil fuels is that biomass is a renewable energy source because the plant and animal matter it comes from can be regrown or reproduced. 

 

Where does bioenergy fit in the energy mix?

Bioenergy currently accounts for nearly one percent of Australia's electricity production (about 2,500 GWh per year), and around 11 percent of all renewable electricity production.4

diagram elect gen aust nem bio

Electricity generation in Australia's National Electricity Market (NEM)4

Are you wondering how biomass is converted into useful energy? You can read about the different types of technologies helping this happen here

  1. Clean Energy Council 2013, Clean Energy Australia report 2013, Clean Energy Council
  2. Clean Energy Council (CEC) 2012, Bioenergy myths and facts, CEC.
  3. Australian Renewable Energy Agency 2013, Bioenergy, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra.
  4. New South Wales Department of Trade and Investment 2013, Bioenergy, New South Wales State Government, Sydney.
  5. With analysis from Origin Energy, National Electricity Market generation data is based on the State of energy market report 2014, Australian Energy Regulator, p.25-28.