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ARENA bioenergy roadmap deals another blow to Sweetman Renewables plans to turn native forests into energy

The Australian Renewable Energy Authority (ARENA) has dealt another blow to Hunter energy start-up Sweetman Renewables, effectively ruling out funding any operations that use of native forest biomass for energy production. [1] 

The ARENA report, Australia’s Bioenergy Roadmap, identifies enormous potential to expand Australia’s bioenergy industry using organic material from domestic and industrial waste streams as well as crop and pine plantation residences. 

The report rules out the use of native forest biomass for energy production because of broad community opposition to the proposal: 

Given the low community support for harvesting native forests, this resource is not a feasible component of the growth of Australia’s bioenergy industry. [See page 23] 

“Sweetman’s business model is based on trashing native forests for quick profits and a short-term energy hit,” Nature Conservation council Chief Executive Chris Gambian said. 

“That approach is not only unsustainable and environmentally destructive, it is also strongly opposed by the broader community.  

“Our native forests are worth far more standing as wildlife habitat and carbon sinks. They should never be trashed for fuel.” 

Sweetman Renewables wants to build revenue streams in biogas, hydrogen and woodchip export businesses that rely substantially on NSW native forests as feedstock. It also plans to supply a million tonnes of woodchips as fuel for a retrofitted coal-fired power station, Redbank, at Singleton in the Hunter Valley.  

The ARENA roadmap is the second blow to Sweetman’s plans this month. The NSW government recently ruled out financing any projects under its $70 million Hydrogen Hub that use native forests as a feedstock. [2]  

Sweetman had hoped to use native forests as feedstock for electricity generation and hydrogen and biochar production and has suggested to potential investors it may be eligible for a slice of the $70 million on offer. [3]  

“The NSW Government made the right call by excluding native forests biomass from these grants,” Mr Gambian said. “There is nothing green about shredding forests for energy, whether it’s to produce hydrogen or fuel a converted coal-fired power station like Redbank at Singleton. 

“We call on the government to ban the use of forest biomass for all energy projects as well as the export of woodchips to fuel power stations overseas. 

About bioenergy 

Bioenergy is a form of renewable energy generated from the conversion of biomass into heat, electricity, biogas and liquid fuels. Biomass is organic matter derived from forestry, agriculture or waste streams available on a renewable basis. It can also include combustible components of municipal solid waste.  

REFERENCES  

[1] Australia’s Bioenergy Roadmap, November 2021, ANEA Consulting and Deloitte for ARENA 

[2] Hydrogen hub initiative guidelines, NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, October 2021. Page 6. “Hydrogen projects will not be eligible for funding if any input (including electricity or feedstock) is derived using biomass from native forests.” 

[3] Sweetman positions to capitalise on green energy revolution with landmark supply, offtake deals, Stockhead, 4-11-21  

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