Biomass refers to biological materials from tree, animal and food crop residues that are waste by-products of the main crop or livestock activity, including cereal straw, dairy effluent, offal, plantation residues, grape marc and tomato vines.
Bioenergy is a form of renewable energy derived from biomass to generate electricity and heat, or to produce liquid fuels for transport. To demonstrate the value of the resources available, 1 tonne of cereal straw can be converted into about 300 litres of ethanol or up to 3300 kilowatt hours of heat energy.
Producers can earn income by selling their low-value agricultural wastes to other bioenergy producers as biomass, or reduce running costs by converting the waste to biofuels to generate heat and electricity used by the business. Some of the processes used to create biofuel also produce secondary products, such as fertilisers and biochar or agricultural use.
Technologies for Using Biomass
The Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development published Biomass scoping study: opportunities for agriculture in Western Australia outlining the international technologies used to produce high value products from low value waste:
- combustion, gasification and pyrolysis
- second generation ethanol production
- anaerobic digestion.
The report outlines selected projects from around Australia and the world that are developing new industries based on biomass waste. The report also provides information on feedstock availability, potential customers for the energy produced and barriers to uptake.
Potential for WA Biomass
Biomass types are varied and are intrinsically linked to the size, scale and productive capacity of the various industries. In WA, the cropping industry produces the largest amount of waste biomass, with dairy, plantation forestry, and other industries also producing substantial amounts of biomass, often in point source locations. About 7 million tonnes of cereal straw are produced every year in WA (Table 1): this product has significant commercial potential. An ethanol plant of the type built in Crescentino in northern Italy could convert 220 000 tonnes of straw into 40 000 tonnes of ethanol.
Table 1: Average agricultural biomass amounts for Western Australia
Tonnes per year
6 930 000
Dairy effluent (wet weight)
2 313 000
1 186 000
Broiler litter (wet weight)
Businesses Using Biomass in Western Australia
DPIRD has mapped biomass available to new industry development as part of the Australian Biomass for Bioenergy Assessment, which is now available on the Australian Renewable energy Mapping Interface (AREMI). Poultry farms, dairies and piggeries have potential to significantly reduce costs and deal with biomass wastes on-site: they have a high energy demand and produce significant amounts of secondary biomass. There is also potential to aggregate biomass at a regional level for areas of high energy demand.
There are a number of businesses producing bioenergy in WA:
- Richgro garden products in Jandakot, just south of Perth, uses anaerobic digestion to convert 100 tonnes of food waste per day into biogas for energy production and to produce soil enrichment products. The CO2 generated is also utilised to increase production in their blueberry hot-houses.
- At the smaller end of the scale, Fairbrossen Winery in the Perth foothills uses the leftover skins and seeds (grape marc) from the 50 tonnes of grapes crushed each year to feed a small anaerobic digester. The biogas produced, along with electricity generated from their solar panels, is used to power the onsite restaurant.
- Morton Seed and Grain in Wagin, uses the husks left over from processing cereal oats to generate the steam required for processing. The installation of an electricity generation turbine has allowed for electricity to be exported to the grid since October 2015.
- Macco Feeds in Williams have replaced their gas-fired boiler with a wood-fired unit to supply the heat and steam needed to make their products. They use up to 4000 tonnes of mallee and plantation-grown woodchips per year and generate up to 1.7 megawatts of energy. The switch has resulted in an energy cost saving of 80% using a local, reliable and sustainable source of fuel.
- Plantation Energy Australia (PEA) is a densified biomass fuel pellet manufacturing company in Albany. The pellets are made from non-commercial timber and harvest residues from sustainably managed plantations. PEA expect to export up to 250 000 tonnes of pellets per year through the port.
The Hazelmere Project is a flagship project between Anergy, the East Metropolitan Regional Councils (EMRC) and AusIndustry for the direct supply of electricity to Perth Airport from a 3.5 megawatt electricity generation facility fuelled by waste wood (Figure 2).
Wood waste such as old pallets diverted from landfill will be chipped and fed into a pyrolysis chamber to convert the wood into syngas. The gas will be cleaned and used to power a bank of generators producing electricity.
The final cost of the electricity produced will be 10–14 cents per kilowatt hour. The facility will create up to 20 new jobs in the construction phase and then require 2–3 full time employees once in production. To begin with it will operate for 10 hours a day and consume 33 tonnes of wood waste a day.
This kind of facility is now economically viable anywhere there is a reliable supply of woody biomass and an electricity user.
For queries or more information, please email Bioenergy@dpird.wa.gov.au.