16/01/2007 - 22:00

Wind, biofuels lead energy charge

16/01/2007 - 22:00

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Concerns over the depletion of fossil fuels, climate change and air pollution have led to a heightened interest in renewable energy projects in Western Australia.

Wind, biofuels lead energy charge

Concerns over the depletion of fossil fuels, climate change and air pollution have led to a heightened interest in renewable energy projects in Western Australia.

Figures released by the Sustainable Energy Development Office show that, at capacity, 274.9 megawatts can be generated by installed renewable energy projects in the state, with wind generating 201MW, hydro generating 30MW and landfill gas generating 23.9MW.

In terms of proposed projects, 346.5MW is expected to be generated, with a proposed biomass projects expected to generate 243MW, while wind is expected to generate 87MW.

Wind, one of the cheapest renewable energy options in the state, has had considerable interest, with energy minister Francis Logan saying more wind farms will be developed in the near future on the South West coast, with a focus on diesel and wind systems built by Verve Energy.

“You can switch between wind to diesel if the wind is reduced,” he said. “These [wind farms] can only be used for small communities but they are looking at plenty of markets overseas that would be able to use this technology, and instead of using diesel you could put a biofuel in there.”

One of the biggest projects on the cards is the extension of the Albany wind farm, known as the Grasmere Wind Farm, which will see the addition of seven wind turbines to the existing 12 turbines at the site, making it the largest wind farm in the state.

The additional wind turbines would produce 14MW of electricity and raise the percentage of renewable energy used in the town to around 90 per cent.

Activity in the biofuels sector in Western Australia has been considerable, with companies including Sterling Biofuels Ltd, Natural Fuel Ltd and Mission Biofuels Ltd making their debuts on the Australian Stock Exchange.

However, the reduction in oil prices and the passing of fuel tax laws, which have reduced biodiesel’s competitiveness in the market, has had a detrimental impact on the sector with most biofuel stocks experiencing falls in their share price and several companies forced to scrap planned capital raisings.

West Perth-based oil and gas explorer Jupiter Energy Ltd pulled the pin on a float of its biofuels subsidiary, citing a lack of market interest in the sector.

Australian Ethanol, which is pursuing the development of a biodiesel project in North America and an ethanol project in Victoria, also scrapped plans for a $31 million share placement and an associated share purchase plan for existing shareholders.

But on a positive note, Natural Fuel managed to complete its $83 million float and is ranked as the largest biofuels stock on the ASX.

Last year, the company built a $11 million transportable biodiesel refinery at the Australian Marine Complex for its $48 million biodiesel facility in Darwin – the first to have been built in the world.

Developments in biomass projects have witnessed a number of applications including a number of power stations in Perth metro area using landfill gas to produce around 24MW, while companies such as AnaeCo are benefiting from the interest in the sector, having recently received a federal government grant to develop a waste recycling system demonstration plant for the Western Metropolitan Regional Council, which handles waste management for Perth’s western suburbs councils.

Biomass projects are also being trialled in the wheatbelt, with the integrated wood processing demonstration plant in Narrogin, developed by Verve Energy, successfully producing renewable energy, activated carbon and eucalyptus oil from local mallees.

“We are currently writing the documentation on its feasibility and taking it to commercialisation stage,” Mr Logan said.

“We want to try and get it to 5 MW, which is sufficient for a small community and if we have 10 around the Wheatbelt then it will provide a sizeable amount of power.”

There have also been recent advances in the development of wave power and geothermal energy.

A wave-power machine, called CETO, could produce 18MW of electricity and 45 billion litres of fresh water from 125 CETO units.

The technology, invented by Perth businessman Alan Burns, allows a unit to sit on the seabed and use the power and movement of the waves to force highly pressured seawater to shore through a small pipe, with the water used to drive a turbine generator to produce electricity.

“The technology is being developed by the UK-based Renewable Energy Holdings’ Perth-based subsidiary Seapower Pacific and they are aiming for full commercialisation by 2010,” Mr Logan said.

Geothermal energy is also on the agenda with the state government calling for expressions of interest who wish to explore for and harness power from granite rock deposits.

According to the government, a 500MW geothermal facility could produce electricity equivalent to powering 700,000 homes.

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