Bioenergy facility

We began assessing the feasibility of a bioenergy facility in the Byron Shire in 2017 (2013 as a region).   The timeline on this page provides a snapshot of the process so far.

Bioenergy facilities have been running successfully for decades in the US and parts of Europe using dry anaerobic digestion, helping these countries to convert their organic waste into clean and green renewable energy and reduce emissions. 

There are currently no dry anaerobic digestion bioenergy facilities operating in Australia.  Our aim is to be the first and to lead the way for other organisations to take responsibility for their organic waste using this process.

The proposed location for the Byron Shire Bioenergy facility is on council-land at the Byron Sewage Treatment Plant (STP).

Being able to process our own green bin (organic) waste means not having to send it out of the region, removing hundreds of thousands of kilometres of truck movements each year and significantly reducing our carbon footprint and emissions.

The renewable energy produced by the bioenergy facility would power our Byron Sewage Treatment Plant operations nearby – again reducing our emissions and cutting Council’s electricity bills.

Our development application (DA) for the bioenergy facility was approved by the Northern Regional Planning Panel in May 2022.

Now that we have a viable proposal and approval for development, we are now looking at financing models.

This includes exploring options for commercial partnerships and grants.

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What is bioenergy?

Bioenergy is converting organic waste into clean and green renewable energy. It’s known as a closed-loop carbon cycle, because the carbon created will end up as plant matter and stays within the system. 

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

Dry anaerobic digestion of organic waste DOES NOT use burning or incineration in the digestion process.  Bioenergy facilities use biomethane as a renewable fuel for electricity generation and have a lower carbon emissions footprint than composting.

The Byron Bioenergy Facility would NOT USE forestry waste.

These are the steps in the bio-energy process.

  1. Organic waste is collected and broken down. 
  2. Gases are contained and captured.
  3. Then the gases are converted into renewable energy.
  4. This results in green energy, a compost product and carbon emission reduction.

The infographic steps out this process. 

A graphic stepping out the bio energy process. Alternative description is available on the web page.

We are considering a bioenergy facility that 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, and the Byron Bay Sewage Treatment Plant. Any excess would be available for dispatch back into the grid.
  • A nutrient-rich, low-carbon compost by-product for local farmland and small growers.

It 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.

It 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.

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 $20-25 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.

Aerobic composting - oxygen, open-air, compost

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.

Typically aerobic composting uses grid electricity to power the aeration of decomposing organic waste. Composting is great but it still causes greenhouse gas emissions, which escape into the atmosphere as the process is usually carried out open-air. Aerobic composting, while far better than landfilling, does consume transport fuel and grid electrical energy.

Dry anaerobic digestion - no oxygen, contained, compost + renewable energy, closed loop carbon cycle

Dry anaerobic digestion decomposes organic waste in oxygen-free conditions. The organic waste produces carbon dioxide and methane.

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

In summary

Both aerobic composting and dry anaerobic digestion produce valuable compost products and both produce approximately the same amount of physical carbon dioxide gas emissions. Dry anaerobic digestion also produces a renewable energy source and as a result, has a lower carbon footprint overall. 

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. 

In February and March 2021, we asked for feedback from the community to inform the project and the social impact assessment.

For more information visit Have your say about bioenergy