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An assessment of biomass for bioelectricity and biofuel, and for greenhouse gas emission reduction in Australia

Damien R. Farine, Deborah A. O'Connell, Robert John Raison, Barrie M. May, Michael H. O'Connor, Debbie F. Crawford, Alexander Herr, Joely A. Taylor, Tom Jovanovic, Peter K. Campbell, Michael I. A. Dunlop, Luis C. Rodriguez, Michael L. Poole, Andrew L. Braid, Darren J. Kriticos
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We provide a quantitative assessment of the prospects for current and future biomass feedstocks for bioenergy in Australia, and associated estimates of the greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation resulting from their use for production of biofuels or bioelectricity. National statistics were used to estimate current annual production from agricultural and forest production systems. Crop residues were estimated from grain production and harvest index. Wood production statistics and spatial modelling of forest growth were used to estimate quantities of pulpwood, in-forest residues, and wood processing residues. Possible new production systems for oil from algae and the oil-seed tree Pongamia pinnata, and of lignocellulosic biomass production from short-rotation coppiced eucalypt crops were also examined. The following constraints were applied to biomass production and use: avoiding clearing of native vegetation; minimizing impacts on domestic food security; retaining a portion of agricultural and forest residues to protect soil; and minimizing the impact on local processing industries by diverting only the export fraction of grains or pulpwood to bioenergy. We estimated that it would be physically possible to produce 9.6 GL yr−1 of first generation ethanol from current production systems, replacing 6.5 GL yr−1 of gasoline or 34% of current gasoline usage. Current production systems for waste oil, tallow and canola seed could produce 0.9 GL yr−1 of biodiesel, or 4% of current diesel usage. Cellulosic biomass from current agricultural and forestry production systems (including biomass from hardwood plantations maturing by 2030) could produce 9.5 GL yr−1 of ethanol, replacing 6.4 GL yr−1 of gasoline, or ca. 34% of current consumption. The same lignocellulosic sources could instead provide 35 TWh yr−1, or ca. 15% of current electricity production. New production systems using algae and P. pinnata could produce ca. 3.96 and 0.9 GL biodiesel yr−1, respectively. In combination, they could replace 4.2 GL yr−1 of fossil diesel, or 23% of current usage. Short-rotation coppiced eucalypt crops could provide 4.3 GL yr−1 of ethanol (2.9 GL yr−1 replacement, or 15% of current gasoline use) or 20.2 TWh yr−1 of electricity (9% of current generation). In total, first and second generation fuels from current and new production systems could mitigate 26 Mt CO2-e, which is 38% of road transport emissions and 5% of the national emissions. Second generation fuels from current and new production systems could mitigate 13 Mt CO2-e, which is 19% of road transport emissions and 2.4% of the national emissions lignocellulose from current and new production systems could mitigate 48 Mt CO2-e, which is 28% of electricity emissions and 9% of the national emissions. There are challenging sustainability issues to consider in the production of large amounts of feedstock for bioenergy in Australia. Bioenergy production can have either positive or negative impacts. Although only the export fraction of grains and sugar was used to estimate first generation biofuels so that domestic food security was not affected, it would have an impact on food supply elsewhere. Environmental impacts on soil, water and biodiversity can be significant because of the large land base involved, and the likely use of intensive harvest regimes. These require careful management. Social impacts could be significant if there were to be large-scale change in land use or management. In addition, although the economic considerations of feedstock production were not covered in this article, they will be the ultimate drivers of industry development. They are uncertain and are highly dependent on government policies (e.g. the price on carbon, GHG mitigation and renewable energy targets, mandates for renewable fuels), the price of fossil oil, and the scale of the industry.

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