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Byron Shire
December 1, 2021

Waste to energy

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On Friday I attended a biomass and waste incineration event, at the Condong sugar mill, held by the Northern Rivers Guardians (NRG) and North East Forest Alliance (NEFA). Generating electricity from incinerating wood ‘waste’ and other waste is a multi-billion dollar industry throughout the world. An industry claiming carbon credits.

In our region Cape Byron Energy is a company doing the business. Their website says they use waste from sugar cane predominantly. I asked them what percentage of sugar cane waste to wood ‘waste’ they use? But they have not answered me. Australia is part of the global industry to chip forest ‘waste’ into pellets to export to be used for biomass energy production.

Other types of waste are also being incinerated and turned into energy in Australia and globally. Sounds genius and green? Zero Waste Australia says this about biomass incineration fuel production facilities; ‘While the organic waste may come from renewable resources the energy created through the incineration is comparatively more climate polluting than other energy sources such as oil, gas and coal’.

The toxic emissions from waste incineration bio waste plants are difficult or impossible to monitor. A technology supplier for one waste-to-energy facility in Queensland says it is difficult to provide comprehensive information on emission performance as the technology supplier is not the operator of the facilities. This is a very dirty rabbit hole to enter. It looks like some of our politicians are attempting, successfully, to green wash.

The ABC Illawarra reported on 10 October how the Independent Planning Commission rejected, in 2018, a proposal to build a waste incinerator in Western Sydney, citing impact to the environment and public health. Instead, Goulburn, Lithgow, Parkes and the Richmond Valley local government areas (LGAs) have been identified as sites for new waste-to-energy infrastructure.

Our Richmond Valley region is considered not populous enough, so Casino is to get a waste incinerator. Besides the Condong incinerator there is also a waste-to-energy incinerator at the Broadwater sugar mill. This makes me less hopeful for the future.

The Byron Council has a bioenergy project which, when running as proposed, will be genius and green. Apparently, it will be the first of its type anywhere on this planet; converting organic waste into clean and green renewable energy using a closed-loop carbon cycle. The carbon created will end up as plant matter and stays within the system. Dry anaerobic digestion uses oxygen-free conditions to break down organic matter inside a contained facility. The resulting biogas is converted into energy. Dry anaerobic digestion DOES NOT use burning, incineration or combustion-based technology.

The Byron Bioenergy Facility would NOT USE forestry waste.

I believe some clever people have made their own closed loop bioenergy facilities in the Shire. This makes me hopeful for a future.

Peta Best, Main Arm

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  1. I have a question about the Byron Bioenergy facility referred to at the end of this letter.

    Anaerobic digestion produces indigestible solids and biogas (methane). All very conventional so far but there is very little information from the council about the step where the methane is converted to heat and energy.
    “The project will have a combined heat and power plant to convert the captured methane into electricity and heat which can be used by the plant.”

    Although oxidation of the methane through microbial action and catalysts in a microbial fuel cell (reverse methanogenesis) is possible and has been demonstrated in a laboratory, I can find no reference to it yet being commercialised. I would have thought such a ground breaking commercialisation of the technology being used in Byron would be a huge story all around the world.

    The conventional alternative is to burn the methane in a steam boiler which is typical of “combined heat and power plants”. Burning the methane after digestion would not technically conflict with their statement,
    “Dry anaerobic digestion DOES NOT use burning, incineration or combustion-based technology”

    Also note it is definitely not a “closed loop” carbon system. It is impossible to produce energy from methane without releasing carbon, using reverse methanogenesis, combustion or any other means. The energy in the Carbon-Hydrogen bonds of the methane is released when converted to lower energy Carbon-Oxygen (as CO2) and Carbon-Hydrogen (as water) bonds. The green credentials come from preventing the release of methane (which is generated by any decomposition of the sewage) and offsetting the carbon dioxide output from producing the energy by conventional means.


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