New research suggests there are enough residues in the North Coast's sustainably managed forests and sawmills to power more than 200,000 local homes per year.
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The news forms part of a recent report by the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI), which found more than one million tonnes of forestry residues from harvesting operations could be used for bioenergy, with no adverse environmental impacts.

DPI research scientist Fabiano Ximenes said the two-and-a-half year project analysed the production forests surrounding regional hubs Grafton, Kempsey and Bulahdelah.

"The research showed that there are also exciting opportunities in the production of biofuels and high-value chemicals, so there is significant untapped potential in NSW forests," Ximenes said.

"To uncover this information, our team weighed more than 700 tonnes of biomass residues, tested hundreds of samples for nutrient and moisture content, interviewed 33 wood-processing facilities and installed more than 40 motion-sensitive cameras to observe biodiversity."

According to the report, any potential impacts on the environment from the use of biomass can be effectively addressed by management actions - for example, via the retention of sufficient biomass in the forest to maintain biodiversity values.

"Use of the biomass for bioenergy has the potential to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, due to the displacement of fossil fuels," Ximenes said.

"There are also additional benefits of removing the residues that would otherwise decay or burn in the forest, such as a reduction in forest management operational costs, reduced fuel loads and supporting regional development by creation of a new industry." 

Recent changes in state and federal legislation also now recognise bioenergy as a renewable energy source. 

"NSW is well positioned to lead the nation in the adoption of bioenergy as a cost-effective and climate friendly energy solution," Ximenes said.

"Biomass from forestry residues has great potential for large-scale electricity generation, industrial heat, biofuels and valuable natural chemicals, all within NSW regional communities."

The research forms part of the NSW Forestry Industry Roadmap initiative, delivering on Pillars 3 and 4 of ‘Community Understanding and Confidence' and ‘Industry Innovation and New Markets'.

Shahana McKenzie, CEO of BioEnergy Australia said the research highlights the opportunity for Australia to provide dispatchable electricity generation through regional areas. 

"This, in turn, would help to rapidly stabilise and decarbonise, and have a higher renewable, energy grid," McKenzie said.

"We also believe the findings of this research has applicable learnings and insights for many other forestry intensive regional areas around Australia.

"And this demonstrates the very real and currently available untapped resources we have at our fingertips to unleash more bioenergy potential."