Bioenergy has taken a back seat in the national energy debate, mainly because its benefits are not clearly understood in Australia’s energy politics and policies. Fresh from hosting the BioEnergy2017 conference in Sydney, Bioenergy Australia’s newly appointed chief executive Shahana McKenzie spoke with Elizabeth Fabri about the necessity for a solid energy policy to support the roll out of new bioenergy developments.
Q. Describe your education and professional background.
Possibly somewhat unusually, I originally studied a Bachelor in Applied Science, Sports Coaching, but I’ve moved a long way away from that and my career to date has been committed to the non-profit sector and predominantly in the built environment space.
For the last 15 years I have worked for industry and professional associations.
At all times I have sought to reposition the role of an association and break the norm of what people expect them to be.
I’m always seeking to create and drive public campaigns to assist in driving policy change.
Q. How are you finding your transition to the industry?
I think my experience in climate and environmental policy and campaigning, along with my previous experience in driving advocacy and industry growth has put me in a good position to understand the impact I can have on the organisation and how my skills can best be deployed.
I sat on the Federal Minister for Cities, Cities Reference Group, the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council and created the Living Cities Alliance.
I have a level of understanding and awareness of energy policy that allows me to get through most days without scratching my head.
I am not a technical expert and I will never claim to be, but the industry has many technical expert; my role is to bring them together, engage them in developing our policy platforms, our public campaigns, responses to government and our long-term strategy.
Q. What are Bioenergy Australia’s key focus areas?
We have recently launched our new strategy 2017 – 2020. Our clear focus is on driving policy support at the Federal and State level.
In addition to this, we need to raise the profile of the industry generally. The general public doesn’t understand the bioenergy options that could be deployed by businesses, councils and Governments.
We see the role of Bioenergy Australia to raise the profile of bioenergy solutions so that there is a greater level of support that will in turn drive growth for the industry.
Some examples might be stronger levels of support for ethanol, a local council running their bus fleet on biodiesel, airlines supporting the local production of biojet, replacement of coal with biomass and biogas produced from organic waste, just to name a few.
Q. In November, the organisation hosted its annual Bioenergy conference. What were the biggest issues brought up?
A major challenge facing the industry is the uncertainty regarding energy and climate policy at the Federal level.
I don’t think this is only a challenge for the bioenergy sector, we need solid energy policy that has bipartisan support and has a long-term commitment.
Bioenergy projects can’t be turned on and off; they take planning and construction.
They need long-term agreements for the feedstock and equally long term agreements for the energy purchase.
Q. ARENA has just committed more than $16 million to help fund bioenergy projects led by Microbiogen and Ethtec. What do these projects involve?
The Microbiogen bioethanol project is a leading example of Australian innovation and technology that will be developed here and taken to global markets.
The innovations in this project is expected to make significant leaps in speeding up fermentation processes which will see bioethanol production increase and be optimised.
The Ethtec pilot project will see second generation ethanol produced for the first time in Australia, and the size and scale of the demonstration plant will not only increase local economic and employment opportunities but will also work towards meeting the huge increased demand for ethanol, particularly from QLD and NSW.
These projects are part of a significant moment and trend towards bioenergy in Australia, as the frameworks and funding accelerate – and we welcome it as an industry.
Q. What advice would you give to companies looking to make the switch to bioenergy?
A good first step would be to understand what energy you currently use, what type, and how much, i.e. do you need electricity, heat, gas or fuel? Depending on the type of business you are running you may have a need for one type of energy more than another, such as a greenhouse needing heat.
After establishing the energy type you need you should identify what feedstocks (fuel) you can access.
Do you have waste product that is created through the running of your business? Are you located close to other businesses that have organic waste? Is there a local forestry industry or agricultural industry? Is the waste wet or dry?
All of these questions will then point you in the direction of certain options.
A website that contains a range of case studies is http://biomassproducer.com.au/.
We are also here to help and point people in the direction of options that might suit.
To contact us go to www.bioenergyaustralia.org.au.