by Penny Joseph, Head of Resilience and Climate Change Adaptation, Governance and Assurance, Sydney Water

Sydney Water is leading the way in resource recovery and circular economy practices and is currently implementing an Australian first biogas-to-grid project that will provide renewable natural gas to Sydney houses and businesses.

Partnering with Jemena, and with support from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), the project will generate zero-carbon emissions and high-quality biomethane gas from the wastewater treatment process and inject it into the gas grid for heating, cooking, and hot water.

Sydney Water expects to start biomethane production in the first half of 2022 to enhance New South Wales’ energy resilience and contribute to establishing a sustainable green gas market in Australia.

What is biomethane?

Biomethane is a purified version of biogas. Biogases are derived from organic matter that is broken down by bacteria in an oxygen-free environment, a natural process called anaerobic digestion.

Anaerobic digestion occurs in wastewater treatment plants to break down our waste products, producing methane that can be captured and refined into a sustainable and green bioenergy source. Biomethane is common and growing, providing thousands of jobs, and reducing the carbon footprint of cities.

What is the malabar biomethane project?

Jemena is constructing the Malabar Biomethane Injection Project to be installed at Sydney Water’s Malabar Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Currently, the biogas from the wastewater treatment plant is used to power cogeneration engines that produce electricity to reduce the overall energy of the plant, with some excess biogas being flared.

In the future, at least 95,000GJ will go to the new biomethane production, with the rest used for onsite operational use. The Malabar Biomethane Injection Project will redirect raw biogas into a Biogas Upgrader System and convert it into biomethane – turning waste into clean, green energy.

The Biogas Upgrading System is easily integrated into a biogas plant, providing a refined and efficient method of gas cleaning that can recover up to 99.5 per cent of methane.

The biomethane will be refined to Australian standards before ultimately ending up in the gas grid as a green gas alternative.

Complementing the existing biogas electricity generators, this project will enhance Malabar Wastewater Treatment Facility’s performance as a clean and renewable bioenergy producer, creating more energy than is needed to run the entire facility.

What will this project achieve?

Sydney Water’s role extends beyond providing world class water services. Sydney Water is committed to managing the environment, improving waterways, and contributing to a liveable city and a circular economy.

The Malabar Biomethane Project will remove 5,000 tons of carbon emissions each year, with the capacity to remove up to 11,000 if scaled to its full potential. It will become a major contributor to the NSW Government’s target to cut emissions by 35 per cent by 2030 compared to 2005 levels and achieve zero emissions by 2050.

From 2022, approximately 95,000 gigajoules of biomethane will be generated each year through the Malabar project, enough to meet the gas demand of 6,300 homes.

The move towards renewable gas will help with the transition to a 100 per cent renewable energy economy, by providing a renewable energy source for those industry sectors that are more difficult to electrify, such as heavy industry and heavy transport.

This Malabar Biomethane Project has the potential for expansion to more Sydney Water sites and other biogas producing facilities around Australia and avoid up to nine million tonnes of CO2 emissions per year.

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