Cofiring Conundrum

Australia explores whether emissions reduction can be achieved through cofiring.
By Matt Soberg | November 01, 2011

The Rural Industries Research and Development Corp., a research organization commissioned by the Australian government, published a report, “Facilitating the Adoption of Biomass Co-Firing for Power Generation,” to ascertain whether emissions reduction can be achieved through cofiring coal with biomass. The RIRDC says its mandate is to “achieve results from research and development for new emerging industries, specific established rural industries and national rural issues.”

One of the most cost-effective ways to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is to substitute a renewable fuel, such as biomass, for a proportion of coal to generate power, according to Craig Burns, RIRDC managing director. Biomass cofiring is used worldwide in countries attempting to meet GHG reduction goals.

The Australian government is already in the process of directing emissions reduction through legislation, which has been introduced into parliament, and may be enacted in July, according to the research organization.

Researchers addressed barriers to adopting cofiring technology within the real-world context of power generators, landholders, policymakers and others in the supply chain, according to the report. The focus was on factors affecting adoption of cofiring and not the technology itself, which is proven and commercially available, the report says. The barriers to cofiring were identified as economics, environmental concerns, the biomass market, and perceptions and attitudes. 

The researchers also considered various types of feedstocks including agricultural biomass, wood waste and urban waste. The cofiring possibilities were reviewed at low levels, 3 percent by energy value, which is an entry level opportunity to reduce GHGs and would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 1.4 million metric tons annually.

The conclusion was that the logistics surrounding biomass cofiring present a multifaceted problem, where simply addressing one barrier would not result in resolution. Economics is a key driver, meaning if the economics do not exist to tempt investors, the motivation to proceed with a biomass project in Australia may not exist. Despite the barriers, the report provides recommendations to make cofiring viable in Australia.

Regarding economics, researchers determined that biomass cofiring economics are marginal under current policy settings, and that the prices generators are willing to pay may limit the market to extremely low-cost materials. They recommended that the government explore state-based renewable energy policy measures to bridge the economic viability gap for the benefit of biomass cofiring.

Another concern was the nationwide resistance to combusting woody material for energy production due to perceived environmental effects. To overcome this barrier, researchers suggested the country convene a roundtable of key parties to discuss these concerns, commission a science-based analysis of forestry management, develop a communications program to clarify the effects of biomass, and to agree on a plan for future action. 

Numerous barriers were identified regarding the potential biomass market including the lack of information on biomass availability, and lack of an organized market. The research recommended the industry identify biomass sources, such as land-clearing residue and regrowth management, in the short, medium and long term.

The report also says that the possibility of one or more major generators expressing a genuine commercial interest in biomass cofiring could serve as a focal point for industry development.
Overcoming the perceptions and attitudes surrounding bioenergy can be challenging, however, social research, community education and outward support from biomass cofiring proponents may be paths to educate the detractors about the benefits of bioenergy. 

The report, which was co-funded by RIRDC, the Queensland Office of Clean Energy and three Queensland electricity generators, CS Energy, NRG Gladstone Operating Services and Tarong Energy, can be found at

—Matt Soberg