Why drill for gas when you can just make it?

IMAGINE a future where instead of drilling for gas, we could "create" gas from existing waste products such as sewage and food scraps.

That future is already commonplace in Europe, according to biogas expert and entrepreneur Fiona Waterhouse, and the Northern Rivers has the capacity to become a biogas powerhouse.

Yesterday Ms Waterhouse's Brisbane-based company Utilitas pledged $1 million worth of expertise to create plans for five investment-ready biogas plants for our region.

Biogas is a form of energy production which takes industrial and agricultural waste products and transforms them into gas for localised heating and electricity.

WHAT IS BIOGAS?

  • The energy stored in biomass is called bioenergy - e.g. food waste, sewage - essentially a mix of carbs, proteins and fats.
  • Can be used to create heating, cooling and electricity - even transport fuel.
  • A biogas plant creates a "closed-loop process" to power the plants which produce the waste then reusing the waste - less waste, lower power costs.
  • The major technologies are mature, proven and widely deployed in other parts of the world

It's used extensively in Germany where there are 8000 such plants, and even created a competitive "spot market" for waste products.

In Sweden, one municipal council in a town of 150,000 people uses a biogas plant to run their car fleet.

"If you were to go into a primary school in Germany and ask them how their local swimming pool is heated, there'd be hands up everywhere saying 'biogas plant'," Ms Waterhouse said.

"There's biogas plants on every farm… it's a mainstream energy source."

Yet Australia has only 30 such plants and the regulatory framework is still in its infancy, despite having ready access to proven technology from Europe.

HOW IT WORKS

  • A biogas plant is basically a giant stomach
  • Put mix of protein, carb, fat, in macerator (mouth)
  • Goes into in-feed system (throat)
  • Through to mix in your digester (stomach) at 37 degrees.
  • Output is 55-70% methane; remainder is "digestate" which can be used as an organic fertiliser.

Here on the Northern Rivers, our embrace of renewable energy combined with an abundance of agricultural waste was a great launchpad for the technology, she said.

Councils could combine kerbside food scrap collection and sewage treatment into biogas production to power public buildings and car fleets.

Abattoirs, piggeries and poultry producers could channel their waste products into gas production to offset their power costs in a "closed-loop" system.

"This is just capturing what's already going to waste," Ms Waterhouse said.

"We can recover quality reliable energy from these waste streams with mature, safe, reliable technology."

"It's also stopping any gas from going to the atmosphere."



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