Optimal Group and its partners are in planning stages to develop a grid scale biogas production project to take large scale Agri-waste and convert it into biomethane for injection into the natural gas grid. While this process has already been demonstrated in North America and Europe as being an excellent source of green gas for natural gas networks, it also significantly reduces organic material going to landfill.
With Optimal’s investment in WasteMaster, they are also looking to divert the increasing volumes of residue from their technology to large scale anaerobic digester, like as being proposed here.
While green electricity has been embraced by industrial and commercial customers seeking to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, there is a simple unavoidable fact with most industrial processes, particularly in the area of agribusiness & food processing is 50% or more of their energy requirements are in the form of thermal energy such as steam.
In the case of a typical large-scale food manufacturing facility, this will mean the customer will have a continuous thermal demand, somewhere between 15-50 MW, which is delivered via natural gas. Converting these large boilers from natural gas to electricity is mostly not possible, as our grids do not have the capacity for such substantial increases in load, let alone the major capital cost of replacing existing gas fired infrastructure with electric fired boilers.
In Australia, as in most of the OECD, there is large existing natural gas infrastructure servicing our cities and our regional areas. It is also well known in these same countries that the electrical grids are already nearing maximum capacity and the advent of electric vehicles will only add further pressure to these constrained networks. If we are to achieve rapid decarbonisation in residential, commercial and industrial sectors, converting all of these users to electricity is simply not a viable option in the time frames required.
Furthermore, in Australia, more than 40% of our solid still waste is still going to landfill compared to 4% in Western Europe. As such, the opportunity to convert waste organic material to energy is not only a necessity in terms of eliminating landfill, but it also provides an enormous opportunity for the provision of biofuels, and in particular, biomethane. With Australia's stubbornly high electricity and gas prices, large scale energy users are going to continue to demand more efficient greener energy, into the future.
Australia’s high natural gas prices are driven by our connectivity to the international LNG markets, coupled with a lack of competition in local natural gas production. This will provide an ideal investment opportunity for new entrants to develop biomethane to grid projects, which will be very competitive against fossil fuel derived natural gas. Optimal is so convinced of this opportunity that they recently employed Matthew Hayden, a specialist in this area, to assist in developing the business cases around biomethane. Optimal have also identified large numbers of their existing natural gas connected operators of microturbines as being very keen to access green grid gas.
They are also in discussion with several large-scale industrial customers who are looking to make new investments into their existing facilities to enable them to take advantage of grid biogas. While currently there is currently no biogas available here in Australia in our natural gas networks, the European example where the levels of biomethane are already approaching 5% demonstrates the opportunity is clearly enormous. Customers will soon be able to access renewable energy delivered through the existing grid and gas networks, as well as onsite solutions such as combined heat and power generation or solar.
Each of these options will allow large scale energy users to truly take control of their long-term energy needs and costs. Behind the meter technologies shield customers from rising network costs as well as enhancing power security, while offsite PPA’s and green gas provide the opportunity for new nimble and aggressive electricity and gas suppliers to provide significantly improved pricing compared to the traditional incumbents.