Lismore manufacturer's idea to turn rubbish into electricity
WHEN most people think about new forms of power, they think solar and wind, not wood and paper rotting at the local tip.
But what if such "waste" could provide every council on the Northern Rivers with cheap, locally-produced energy?
Lismore heavy equipment manufacturer Bill McKee thinks it could work.
Two years ago Mr McKee attended a world bioenergy exhibition in Denmark, and was amazed to see old coal-fired plants transformed completely into wood pellet burning power stations.
In Copenhagen, he pointed out, more than 50% of all waste was incinerated for energy, most of the rest was recycled or composted, and only 5% made it to landfill.
"They use it all," he said.
Inspired, he had his workshop build the region's first ever machine which compacts green and timber waste into tiny pellets.
It produces half a tonne of pellets in under an hour, ready to be incinerated for energy.
Since then, Mr McKee has produced a 90-page report for Lismore City Council arguing they should include the technology in their push to become 100% renewable over the next 15 years.
The Federal Government has also recently come to the "wood party", including wood waste as an official renewable energy under its reconstituted Renewable Energy Target (RET).
While the timber industry argues the offcuts from its products are perfect for use as one form of renewable energy, environmental groups such as the Wilderness Society argue it would incentivise the industry to step up the logging of native forests and contribute to habitat destruction.
Renewable energy expert Dr Mark Byrne from the Total Environment Centre also explained that burning something was usually the "lowest value" use, and it was better to find other uses such as turning it into compost.
Burning wood also creates carbon emissions.
But the fact the timber is local saves on carbon emissions built-in to the manufacture and export of solar panels sourced from overseas.
For his part, Mr McKee said he just wanted to see the waste timber lying dormant at local tips used in a productive way, as an alternative to solar alone.
A report included in Mr McKee's submission about the potential of biomass energy systems states despite their suitability to the subtropical east coast, small-scale biomass energy systems remain "vastly underutilised".
"Sourcing locally-available waste wood fuels is critical to minimising carbon emissions and maximising local economic development opportunities."
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