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Identifying biomass resources and availability

The first step in determining a bioenergy project's potential is identifying whether sufficient resources are available at a low enough price. Identifying biomass supply can be one of the most challenging aspects of developing a bioenergy project, but it's critical to its success. For example, woody biomass fuel can account for 80% or more of a bioenergy project's operating costs. For developers and financiers, uncertainty about the security or price of fuel supply may be a major obstacle to development.
So when it comes to biomass, it's important to identify:

  • The type of resources available, how much is available, and how consistently.
  • Its potential energy content - many laboratories can assess the energy and chemical content, and likely emissions from biomass feedstocks.
  • How much it costs. Know what you are dealing with - eg. biomass prices can be quoted in green tonnes, dry tonnes and bone dry tonnes or even by volume, such as by the cubic metre. A green tonne, once dried, may lose as much as half it's when bone dry.
  • Any security of supply issues - are long-term supply agreements available?
  • What, if anything, the biomass resource is currently used for, and potentially competing future uses?
  • Sustainability of supply.
  • Any potential for substituting one biomass feedstock with another if there's interruption to supply.

Fuel supply chain

A new fuel supply chain may be needed. This depends on the scale of the project, and whether biomass is used to fuel a Biomass Conversion Facility, (BCF) on-site, for example, as part of a food-processing waste stream, or if it needs to come from elsewhere, such as from forest harvesting operations. If it needs to come from off-site sources, a project developer should look into how the biomass crop is produced, harvested, processed, stored, transported and delivered. All have cost implications for the project.

For more on bioenergy value chains, see the reports 'Biomass Energy Production in Australia' - Status, costs and opportunities for major technologies, Stucley et al, (2008) - RIRDC publication No 04/031 and ''Bioenergy from Agriculture in Victoria — The Value Chain', DPI, (2010), Turnbull et al.