What is bioenergy?

    Bioenergy is electricity, heat or gas generated from organic matter. 

    The Byron Shire Bioenergy Facility would use a process called dry anaerobic digestion to break down organic waste to create biogas, which would then be converted into 100% renewable energy.


    Organic waste includes: 

    • Residential green bins;
    • Garden waste;
    • Agricultural green waste:
    • Commercial food waste;
    • Grease trap waste; and
    • Wastewater sludge (biosolids) from the sewage treatment plant.


    Organic green waste suitable for bioenergy processing


    How does dry anaerobic digestion work?

    Dry anaerobic digestion uses oxygen-free conditions to break down organic matter inside a contained facility. The resulting biogas is converted into energy.

    THE PROCESS

    Inside a contained facility:

    Step 1: Organic waste decomposes in oxygen-free conditions for 28 days. 

    The exterior of the fermenters at a bioenergy facility in Enger, Germany

    Doors to the fermenter chambers inside a bioenergy facility in Gutersloh, Germany


    Step 2: Micro-organisms (from the biosolids) start to digest the decomposing waste, which releases a biogas. 



    Step 3: The biogas is captured and heated via a combined heat and power unit. The biogas is converted into 100% renewable energy. 

    Step 4: The energy is sent back into the unit to power the Facility. Any excess energy is available for dispatch into the electricity grid. 

    Step 5: The high-nutrient residual waste is collected and can be used as a soil conditioner for the local agricultural industry.


    Compost by-product for sale to the public at the bioenergy facility in Enger, Germany.

    NOTE:

    • Dry anaerobic digestion DOES NOT use burning, incineration or combustion-based technology. 

    • The Byron Bioenergy Facility would NOT USE forestry waste.

    How is biogas converted into renewable energy?

    The biogas converts to energy via a combined heat and power unit, which is fuelled by the biogas.

    The biogas fuels a biogas engine to power an electric generator which produces the electricity.

    It’s known as a closed-loop carbon cycle, because the carbon created will end up again as plant matter and stays within the system. 


    Is this a new technology for Australia?

    If successful, the Byron Bioenergy Facility will be the first of its kind in Australia.

    Dry anaerobic technology has been successfully employed for over 30 years at over 150 facilities across Western Europe, and is now growing at facilities in North America and Canada.

    Unlike other Australian bioenergy projects, dry anaerobic digestion does not use incineration or combustion-based technology but, rather, an oxygen-free environment to break-down matter inside a purpose-built facility.

    This project would create a pathway for more renewable energy projects by acting as a reference site. It would also help Council and the NSW and Australian governments meet renewable energy targets.

    Key benefits of bioenergy in Byron

    A smarter local waste solution.

    Why? 

    Generates

    • 24/7 dispatchable and controllable renewable energy 365 days a year.
    • Approximately 4 million kilowatt-hours of renewable electricity. The equivalent of powering 267 households per year
    • Enough renewable energy to power the Facility itself, other Council assets and excess for dispatch back into the grid.
    • A nutrient-rich, low-carbon compost by-product for local farmland and small growers.


    Creates

    • Local jobs created in the construction, operations and maintenance.
    • Local processing facility for agricultural and commercial organic waste. 
    • Local solution to waste management, reducing truck movements and distances travelled across the region.
    • Improved management of sewage biosolids.
    • Savings of approximately 3,402 tonne/CO2 per year for Council. The equivalent of keeping approximately 1,030 cars off the road each year
    • A case study for others to follow in the search for future energy solutions while helping Byron Shire Council, NSW State and Australian Federal Governments meet renewable energy targets.


    Reduces

    • Council’s use of grid electricity by 70%.
    • Council's costs by taking its largest electricity user, Byron Bay Sewage Treatment Plant off-grid.
    • Council’s total carbon emissions by over 20%.
    • Council's overall electricity costs, creating the potential to increase funds for other local priorities.
    • Landfilling of organics.
    • The number of truck movements and distances travelled across the region, further reducing carbon emissions and impact on air quality and local roads.
    • Australia's dependence on fossil fuels.


    How much energy would the bioenergy facility create?

    Approximately 4 million kilowatt-hours per year, the equivalent of powering 267 households per year

    The bioenergy facility could:

    • reduce Council’s total carbon emissions by over 20%,
    • reduce Council’s use of grid electricity by 70%; and
    • save approximately 3,402 tonne/CO2 per year for Council, the equivalent of keeping approximately 1,030 cars off the road each year.

    The creation of a new energy source would reduce Council’s carbon emissions and Australia’s dependence on fossil fuels.



    What happens to our green waste now?

    Byron Shire generates approximately 20,000 tonne of organic waste per year (almost 6,000 tonne is from residential alone), which is above average in NSW.

    The reasons for a higher rate of organic waste production are: 

    • High tourist population;
    • Established restaurant industry;
    • Sub-tropical climate; and 
    • High community awareness of source-segregation of organics into green bins.

    Organic waste includes residential green bin waste, garden waste, commercial food waste, grease trap waste, and sewage treatment plant bio-solids.

    Currently, the Shire’s organic waste is shipped approximately 125km out of the area to Yatala, QLD at a high cost to Council and ratepayers. The Lismore composting facility cannot accept sewage biosolids or dewatered grease trap waste, and the Yatala facility cannot accept biosolids.

    The majority of our commercial organic waste currently goes into landfill. The new bioenergy facility would significantly reduce landfilling of commercial food waste, get trucks off roads and provide a local waste solution, as well as create renewable energy to reduce Council’s use of grid electricity.



    What’s the difference between aerobic and anaerobic composting processes?

    Aerobic composting requires oxygen and water irrigation to keep the process temperature and humidity under control, and to keep the piles from uncontrolled self-igniting. Large scale composing requires grid electricity to operate the aeration blowers and produces a compost product.

    Aerobic composting requires oxygen to decompose organic waste via naturally occurring micro-organisms. This process produces heat, water, carbon dioxide and small amounts of methane and nitrous oxide.

    Aerobic composting uses grid electricity to power the aeration blowers for oxygenating the micro-organisms that decompose organic waste. These composting micro-organisms exhale carbon dioxide. Composting is great but it still causes greenhouse gas emissions. Aerobic composting, while far better than landfilling, does consume transport fuel and grid electrical energy (there is no renewable energy produced).

    Dry anaerobic digestion requires no oxygen, is a contained process, fuels itself, produces a compost product and renewable energy in a closed-loop carbon cycle

    Dry anaerobic digestion decomposes organic waste in oxygen-free conditions. The micro-organisms that anaerobically decompose organic waste produce carbon dioxide and bio-methane.

    The bio-methane can power a natural gas engine, which converts the bio-methane to renewable energy for storage or redistribution. There is very little fugitive emission since the entire process is contained in enclosed structures and all gases are collected for appropriate handling. This is a closed-loop carbon cycle.

    In summary

    Both aerobic composting and dry anaerobic digestion produce valuable soil amendment products. Both produce approximately the same amount of carbon dioxide gas emissions from the respective biological decomposition of the waste. However, dry anaerobic digestion also produces renewable energy and, as a result, has a lower carbon footprint when compared to composting the same waste.

    Is biogas harmful to the environment?

    No. The methane and carbon dioxide produced from the dry anaerobic digestion process are contained inside a pressure controlled facility. The biogas is not released into the atmosphere, so the environment is unharmed. 

    The biogas is contained, collected and converted to renewable energy for using, storing or sending back into the electricity grid. 

    How would a bioenergy facility work in Byron Bay?

    It would operate as a local facility to break down organic matter, including sewage treatment plant biosolids, and convert it into renewable energy. 

    After the dry anaerobic process is completed, a high-nutrient compost product can be produced for use by the agricultural industry. 

    The facility would produce renewable green electricity to power the facility and the Byron Bay Sewage Treatment Plant, in place of the existing grid electricity supply. Any excess energy would be available for dispatch into the grid.

    Organic waste would be diverted away from landfill, reducing the amount of municipal solid waste needing landfilling.

    The number of truck movements and the distances travelled would be reduced in comparison to the present composting of organic green wastes and landfilling of mixed municipal solid waste.

    Why is the Byron Sewage Treatment Plant the selected site?

    • Council Operational Land with permissible land use zoning.
    • Good proximity to organic wastes - feedstock and sewage bio-solids will supply 25%, residential organic waste (50%) and local restaurant and food industry (25%). 
    • Good road access - would reduce regional traffic movements and transport distances.
    • Would diversify and maximise carbon emission reductions of the Byron Sewage Treatment Plant, the Shire’s largest sewer facility and Council’s single largest user of grid electricity.


    Several other Council-owned locations were considered for the Bioenergy Facility, however were deemed less suitable or unsuitable due to one or more of the following: 

    • poor geotechnical site conditions;
    • high development costs;
    • distance to feedstocks;
    • compatibility with current use; 
    • accessibility; and/or 
    • no energy off-set potential.



    Would the bioenergy facility be burning waste or using forestry waste?

    No.

    Would there be a risk of explosion?

    Biogas is inherently safe because it is not explosive. The waste is broken down inside a contained facility under controlled temperature and pressure settings. The risk of explosion would be very low and far less than other waste facilities operating in Australia.

    Would there be any smell or odour?

    Waste would be delivered to and processed inside a contained facility. Odours are typically not present outside these facilities. Council has inspected 10 facilities overseas and no odours were present outside.

    Overseas facilities were in close proximity to residential areas with no community issues reported with regards to odour.

    Would there be any noise?

    Typically, these facilities do not generate loud noise inside or outside the facility. 

    Would there be more truck traffic coming through the area?

    A detailed traffic impact study would be required prior to development approval. The project will be designed in alignment with the Byron Arts and Industry Estate Precinct Plan.

    Although there may be a slight increase in additional traffic entering the Byron Arts and Industry Estate, there would be less truck movements in the Shire and region overall, compared to the current solution. The project would reduce waste hauling distances and carbon emissions.

    Would there be any visual impacts for nearby residents or businesses?

    The facility would be contained within the grounds of the Byron Bay Sewage Treatment Plant and adjacent to the Byron Bay Wetlands.

    Council would consider natural screening solutions, bush regeneration options and any other community suggestions for minimising potential visual impact to neighbours.

    How much would the facility cost?


    Council is considering this renewable energy project with the intention that there is no increase in rates for Byron Shire ratepayers. 

    The estimated cost of the facility is approximately $15-20 million with payback estimated at between 10-20 years, dependent on grant funding. Council is submitting applications for Federal funding and if successful, will partially fund the project from its Sewerage Fund Capital Works Reserve. 

    Council is considering this investment because it offers a secure cash flow that could potentially save ratepayers money in the future (generating long term revenue for Council through a compost product for the agricultural market as well as renewable energy generation), and it replaces existing Council-funded services but offers a longer term, and more environmentally sustainable solution. 

    The feasibility stage of the project will address the business case risks compared to present business-as-usual conditions, and identify any issues to protect Council and its ratepayers. Councillors will consider the preferred option/s for financing and operation of the facility once the feasibility stage is complete.

    How would Council fund it?

    Council is submitting applications for Federal funding.

    Council is planning to partially fund the project from its Sewerage Fund Capital Works Reserve. 

    A key advantage of this project for Byron Shire ratepayers is that there is no planned increase in rates or any other Council charges.

    Why isn’t Council investing in solar instead?

    The Bioenergy Facility would offer a 24-hour power source, which is not reliant on the sun or wind. 

    Council has installed solar projects at all of its sewage treatment plants and the carpark at Council's main office. A solar farm has also been proposed at Dingo Lane, Myocum.

    How can the community provide input?

    The project is currently in the feasibility phase before Council makes a decision on the next stage.

    Council is inviting the community to build their general awareness and knowledge of bioenergy as a renewable energy source.

    Community consultations and discussions are ongoing. Council wants the community to be able to make informed and considered decisions.

    Ask a question about bioenergy or this project via the Q&A tab or email us (See Who's Listening). The Project Team will answer you.

    Your input into this project will help Council make decisions on the next stage.

    Stay informed about this project on Your Say.


    Is there carbon pollution from burning methane?

    Burning any carbonaceous materials, including methane, produces carbon dioxide and water. However, generating electricity from bio-methane is not equivalent to burning methane derived from petroleum hydrocarbons. 

    Some of the carbon content of organic waste is converted into CO2 by biological respiration during composting, and is emitted to the atmosphere. This CO2 is then available for uptake into the growth of new plants. 

    During anaerobic digestion, some of the carbon content of organic waste is converted into CO2 by biological fermentation. The bio-methane produced will be contained inside a pressure and temperature-controlled facility. Once captured, the bio-methane fuels an electricity generator that produces renewable energy. 

    Since generator – a combined heat and power unit – is fuelled by the bio-methane itself, there is no reliance on grid electricity. 

    The CO2 that is emitted to the atmosphere from the Bioenergy Facility is also then available for uptake into the growth of new plants.

    In comparison, aerobic composting has higher carbon emissions because large scale compost systems use considerable amounts of grid electricity for large blowers, and also emit small amounts of bio-methane and nitrous oxides to the atmosphere because composting is not a perfect/ideal process. 

    The CO2 produced in anaerobic fermentation and renewable energy generation is roughly the same mass/amount of CO2 as would be emitted from just the biological respiration step of aerobic composting process. However, anaerobic digestion has a key environmental benefit that is one of the main reasons for its expanding global use: the Bioenergy Facility would produce electricity with the bio-methane, whereas large-scale aerobic composting facilities consume grid energy for aeration. 

    In aerobic composting, the greenhouse gas emissions are more (via CO2 exhaled from biological respiration + CO2 from grid electricity to power aeration blowers) than in anaerobic digestion and energy production. 

    The differing carbon footprints and GHG emissions for aerobic composting (aerobic biological respiration) vs. anaerobic digestion (anaerobic biological fermentation) are scientific facts that are not tied to any international or Australian governmental policy regarding calculating GHG emissions or counting credits.

    Since the fire at Lismore’s composting facility during the 2019 drought, Council has had to truck organic waste to Yatala for composting, and the long truck transport to facilities for aerobic composting also contributes towards the total GHG emissions of Council’s present organic waste management solution.

    Will the compost product be safe to use for agriculture, landscaping, gardening or other purposes and add carbon into the soil?

    The solid digestate leftover after the dry anaerobic process is a well-drained residue which can be further processed into a marketable compost product. 

    It will be a nutrient-rich, low-carbon soil conditioner suitable for use by the agricultural industry, landscaping and gardening purposes, and Council is targeting unrestricted use, including agricultural food production.