Straw biomass could benefit miners

While mining and agriculture have traditionally been largely at odds when it comes to land use, a renewable energy project in South Australia wants to unite the industries’ interests.

With a planned demonstration plant to exhibit how a straw- burning generator could provide miners with an inexpensive power source for the first 10-20 megawatts, the 15MW Yorke Biomass Energy (YBE) project is seeking to assist remote mining operations to access baseload electricity from the crop.

According to YBE Chairman Terry Kallis, straw biomass has major potential to contribute to mining operations across the country.

“The potential for straw-fuelled biomass power generation in Australia is conservatively estimated at 660MW, or another 40 or so projects the size of the YBE project,” Mr Kallis told National Mining Chronicle.

“As mining developments have started to encroach on agricultural pursuits, the initial reaction has been to see this as competition for land use and for mining and farming to be seen as mutually exclusive.

“However, if one thinks outside the square, there is a?real opportunity to see things as mutually beneficial by supplying agricultural waste to produce needed power for mining projects.”

The project is located in the Yorke Peninsula of South Australia, which owns its status as a major grain growing region.

Mr Kallis said the location of the project, around 2km south of Ardrossan, was carefully selected as an ideal choice for a biomass project.

“The location of the project has been driven by a number of matters, including proximity to the straw resource, proximity to the grid and customers, an excellent network of access roads for delivery of straw and proximity to cooling water if needed,” Mr Kallis said.

Expected to be operational in 2018 and to process 90,000 tonnes of straw from local farms every year, the plant is modelled on existing facilities operated by infrastructure and renewable energy development company Acciona, and has the potential to create up to 40 long-term employment opportunities.

It has not all been smooth sailing however, as the YBE project, like many others, has encountered several stops and starts, primarily driven by changes in government policy on renewable energy.

“There have been four community meetings conducted over several months, and a number of exclusive negotiation agreements for biomass supply have been executed,” Mr Kallis said.

“The project is in the design and tender stage for the biomass power plant and ancillary equipment. In January 2017, we also submitted a tender for the supply of 113 gigawatt hours of power for a South Australian Government contract.

“We are additionally planning to submit an expression of interest to Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) for grant assistance for the project, and we are also assessing the opportunity to access Clean Energy Financing Corporation’s $200 million bioenergy equity fund.”

Currently in the process of discussing the potential for investment in YBE and a future pipeline of similar projects across Australia – mainly in SA, Victoria and Western Australia – Mr Kallis is confident of YBE’s potential.

“Biomass projects have the highest job intensity of any form of renewable energy, operate 24/7 as baseload and offer a great way of bringing together traditionally different pursuits, including farming, mining, and general industry,” he said.

“This YBE project really aims to demonstrate how farmers, miners and local communities can all work together for mutual advantage.” NMC

Picture: A demonstration plant to create straw-based fuel. Supplied

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