Resource and energy recovery investment to deliver triple impact

Wednesday, 12 May, 2021

Resource and energy recovery investment to deliver triple impact

A Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) report examining the role of resource and energy recovery in Australia’s transition to a low-emissions economy has identified a potential investment pipeline of up to $7.8 billion to 2025 across the waste, bioenergy, recycling and resource recovery sectors.

The report ‘Energising resource recovery: the Australian opportunity’ — developed in collaboration with global engineering and consultancy firm Arup — predicts that investment over five years would deliver a triple impact in terms of economic, employment and emissions benefits. The investment could generate thousands of jobs across rural and regional Australia and drive down emissions from landfill by as much as 60% on current forecasts.

According to the report, the resource and energy recovery sectors could contribute significantly to Australia’s economic, employment and emissions goals with additional social benefits.

Report highlights

  • New and expanded infrastructure requirements for waste, recycling and bioenergy projects in Australia have the potential to generate between $4 billion and $7.8 billion in new investment in the period to 2025.
  • Emissions from landfill could be reduced by as much 60% by substantially reducing, reusing and recycling materials before they enter the waste stream, in line with the waste hierarchy.
  • The employment benefits include the potential for the creation of up to 9000 construction jobs, 2600 indirect jobs and as many as 1400 direct and ongoing jobs, including in regional and rural areas.

“Australia’s recycling and resource recovery sector is undergoing considerable transformation, driven by global market pressures, evolving consumer preferences and an increasing focus on reducing our carbon footprint,” CEFC CEO Ian Learmonth said.

“As an experienced investor in the bioenergy, recycling and energy-from-waste sectors, we see immediate and important investment opportunities in recycling and resource recovery, drawing on proven technologies with the potential to deliver long-term economic and environmental benefits.

“We also recognise the critical importance of supporting the circular economy, to back the development of new industries and jobs while cutting greenhouse gas emissions and making more efficient use of finite natural resources.”

The report examined the investment and employment benefits that can be gained from strengthening the recycling, organics, bioenergy and thermal-energy-from-waste sectors.

The areas with the strongest investment potential were in large-scale energy-from-waste facilities, which have the potential to reduce significant volumes of waste going to landfill while at the same time recovering energy. Other significant opportunities were in refuse-derived fuel facilities and processing municipal solid waste generated by households.

Arup Australasian Resource and Waste Leader Joyanne Manning said, “The waste and bioenergy sector has shifted radically over the last five years, and this review is vital to provide evidence and confidence for future potential investment opportunities. Arup is delighted to have partnered with the CEFC to undertake this review and prepare this market report.”

CEFC Waste and Bioenergy Lead Mac Irvine added, “This analysis clearly demonstrates both the diversity and complexity of the bioenergy and waste sectors, across a broad range of feedstocks, technologies and end uses.

“While this complexity poses challenges for potential investors and project proponents, international experience should give investors confidence that we can capture these opportunities in the Australian context, in both metropolitan and regional areas.

“Critical success factors include appropriate feedstock supplies, careful site selection, and a clear commitment to community engagement and the social licence to operate.

“Ensuring robust investment in mature and proven technologies, complemented by a commercial approach to infrastructure delivery and operation to underpin long-term performance, are also vital,” Irvine said.

Investment opportunities

The CEFC report assessed a diverse range of resource and energy recovery investment opportunities over the period to 2025:

  • Bioenergy technologies using 100% organic feedstocks can produce renewable energy in various forms, including heat, electricity, gas and transport fuels. These technologies and feedstocks can provide an incredibly flexible energy source with the potential for baseload or dispatchable generation as well as energy storage.
  • Food and organic liquid wastes are suited to biogas production through anaerobic digestion.
  • Bio-hubs, which bring together multiple players such as food and beverage producers, intensive horticulture and wastewater treatment, have the potential to secure organic feedstock and energy offtake at a viable scale and pricing.
  • While waste materials which have been mixed or contaminated may have no viable recycling option, these residual waste materials could be a suitable energy resource for industrial heating, displacing fossil fuel consumption and diverting waste from landfill.
  • Emerging constraints on landfill capacity around Australia’s metropolitan centres and increasing landfill levies are beginning to create clear commercial drivers for thermal energy recovery infrastructure, as the sector seeks alternatives for managing mixed residual waste.
  • The phase-out of non-recyclable packaging materials and single-use plastics by 2025 under the National Waste Policy Action Plan will help simplify the plastic waste stream, while also requiring investment in upgrades to sorting infrastructure to separate clean polymer streams for high-quality recycling.
  • There is a growing market opportunity for tyre-derived products in Australia in road, rail and non-structural civil projects, including bitumen-crumb rubber asphalt, bitumen-modified spray seals and soft-fall matting.
  • Policy implementation could drive investment and employment opportunities. The report noted the positive impact of policies around the application and increasing of landfill levies, waste export bans and requirements for increased source separation.
  • Elements of the National Waste Policy Action Plan would also have a positive impact on industry development, including the twin 2030 targets of lifting resource recovery rates to 80% and cutting landfill volumes of organic waste by 50%.

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