Powerful Choices

Powerful Choices

Publication TypeReport
Year of Publication2009
AuthorsCampbell, CAndrew
Series Title the know-how for a shift to a biofuel economy in Australia
Keywordsbio-methanol, biofuel, biophysical-economic model, CCS, External, peak oil

About eight years ago, Land & Water Australia funded Barney Foran (then of CSIRO) and colleagues to undertake a detailed analysis of how Australia could shift to a biofuel economy using woody vegetation as a feedstock. At the time, salinity, rural tree decline and the clearing and fragmentation of native vegetation — and consequent loss of biodiversity — were seen as significant problems. At that time, the concept of ‘peak oil’ was broadly dismissed as resource pessimism. Biomass energy was not seen as a priority by the Australian government, and in 1996 the Howard government had abolished the Energy R&D Corporation (ERDC). Energy security is now seen in a different light. Australia faces crucial choices about how best to respond to and plan for the converging insecurities of water, energy and food in a carbon- and nutrient-constrained world. This biophysical-economics model of the Australian economy has been applied to explore the capability of discrete low-carbon technologies to maintain economic growth, ensure energy security and reduce CO2 emissions out to 2051. The rationale here is that investors and decision makers, be they corporations, governments or superannuation funds, make decisions on individual projects. The thermodynamics and mass balance calculations central to this approach give insights to investors that a commercial prospectus might avoid. The best biofuel production chains can avoid three to four billion tonnes of CO2 emissions out to 2051, or 10–15% of the 29 billion tonnes of base case emissions. Bio-methanol from wood feedstocks is capable of meeting Australia’s transport fuel needs. Bio-ethanol is feasible, but less attractive than bio-methanol. Both compressed natural gas (CNG) and shale oil are feasible routes to transport energy security but have less possibility for greenhouse gas mitigation. Despite higher costs and lower load factors, a renewable electricity transition with 20% each of wind turbines, bio-electricity, solar photovoltaics and solar thermal is feasible and could supply 80% of electricity requirements by 2035. Admittedly, these are modeled outputs and the real world is invariably more complex. That said, this study shows that with good strategic planning, sufficient investment and competent implementation, either ‘renewable’ or ‘advanced conventional’ electricity, with a second generation biofuel and land management or biochar, can displace 10, 4 and 2 billion tonnes respectively (in total 16 billion tonnes), a 60% reduction against the base case CO2 emissions of 29 billion tonnes.


Citation and export

Campbell, C. Andrew. Powerful Choices . the know-how for a shift to a biofuel economy in Australia 6pp (2009).

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