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Choosing the right site for a Biomass Conversion Facility

Finding the best location for a bioenergy project is also critical to its success. Where a BCF is proposed for an existing business or industrial site, its design may be dictated by available space, layout and other facilities that contribute to it.

If it's likely to be on a new greenfield site, there are several things to consider:

  • Can the heat and/or electrical energy it produces be used on-site, nearby or fed into the power grid.
  • If BCF generated power is intended for the grid, how easy is it to connect?
  • How close is the BCF to an ongoing demand for heating or cooling, and electricity?
  • What are the co-generation options? The combined production and use of both heat and electricity helps maximise the energy potential of the biomass and therefore return on investment. For example, tri-generation projects often use the thermal energy generated on-site for cooling   systems such as refrigerators. Industries and buildings that typically use thermal energy for heating and/or cooling include schools, hospitals and food processing industries — they often have central hydronic water-heating systems and/or large refrigeration systems.
  • How much space is available relative to the physical size and siting requirements of the plant and its associated buildings?
  • What other infrastructure is needed, like power lines, underground cables and fuel storage areas?
  • Is there a need to access a source of electricity or gas, or a water supply for example, for anaerobic digesters or gas scrubbing and cooling systems?
  • What waste streams, if any, will be generated and how will they be treated, stored and disposed of? Is connection to the sewage system required?

Storage facilities

Storage space may be a significant factor in BCF design, layout and total ground space. Things to consider:

  • Whether fuel is processed on-site or bought in.
  • How much fuel needs to be stored to ensure continuity of supply?
  • Frequency and volume of fuel deliveries.
  • Possible seasonal fluctuations in feedstock supply.
  • Desired moisture content of fuel.
  • The type of fuel, e.g. whether it needs to be stored under cover.
  • Potential risks of spontaneous combustion.
  • Any visual impacts or dust and odour issues.

Delivery access

This needs consideration and may be affected by:

  • Space limitations
  • The type and capacity of fuel delivery trucks and potential impacts, such as noise, on businesses and residents along delivery routes.
  • Peak time delivery traffic or seasonal changes.
  • Road and bridge weight limitations between the fuel supplier and the BCF site.

An example of woody biomass requirements is the 25 MW Woodland BCF in California, which burns up to 725 tonnes of woody waste each day - around 40 trucks.

Disposing of solid or liquid residues

BCF developers need to think about the methods and cost benefits of reusing or disposing of energy production bi-products, such as ash or biosolids from anaerobic digestion. Nearby businesses may have uses for these bi-products and this can help reduce overall running costs, making the project more financially viable.

Connecting to the grid

Proximity and connectability to the grid need to be established early in a BCF project's development, unless the electricity it produces stays on-site or goes to a nearby customer sharing the same title of land.

Generators over 5MW may require licensing through the National Electricity Market, (NEM) to sell electricity to the grid. This depends on the size of the project and how it's sold.
Power generators need a Grid Connection Agreement if the power is to be sold beyond the BCF’s title boundary. This may mean upgrading the local grid's capability, which may add to BCF set-up and running costs.

Also, exporting electricity to the grid will usually require a Power Purchase Agreement, (PPA) with an electricity retailer. This can take many months, so it's worth starting this process as early as possible to avoid delays in the project.

Technology assessment

Choosing the appropriate bioenergy technology can be complex as bioenergy encompasses the use of a wide range of biomass types and conversion processes and technologies which currently exist at various scales and levels of commercialisation. Some technologies and products are being promoted and claims are being made regarding their performances that have not been independently verified.

Different manufacturers design and build their systems in various ways which employ varied technologies and mechanisms. Certain designs may better suit particular scenarios and applications and care should be taken to match the right system to meet your needs.

Matching your biomass feedstocks to the best available technology may require considerable research and, for large projects, expert independent advice.

A good starting point for information on the current status of bioenergy technologies is the IEA Bioenergy report — A Sustainable and Reliable Energy Source , 2010, and the joint RIRDC / Bioenergy report — An Overview of Bioenergy in Australia , 2010.