Current climate change research projects: mitigation

Forestry

NSW Greenhouse Gas Abatement Scheme

Through Forestry Corporation, NSW DPI has undertaken the world’s first carbon dioxide emissions trade for carbon sequestration by planted forests, under the NSW Greenhouse Gas Abatement Scheme (GGAS), and developed sophisticated carbon accounting procedures to support its emissions trading business. Forestry Corporation is playing a leadership role in forest carbon accounting-trading which should be recognised as bridging technology.

Carbon storage of wood products

NSW DPI is continuing research into carbon storage of wood products in landfill, and working on forest carbon accounting procedures that better reflect the fate of timber products after harvest. (The current NSW GGAS excludes the contribution to mitigation of carbon stored in wood products.)

Greenhouse footprint of wood products

This research will guide policy and management decisions that will optimise the use of building materials and management of end-of-life options, particularly in light of the threat posed by climate change. The objectives of the project are:

  • Development of an energy budget for the main types of wood products used in the NSW building sector;
  • Quantification of the greenhouse gas impacts of the various waste disposal options for wood and paper products in NSW;
  • Development of an economic analysis of alternative disposal options of wood and paper (landfill, recycling, bioenergy);
  • Quantification of the rate and extent of decay of wood and paper products in landfills in NSW and their associated greenhouse gas emissions; and
  • Development of data that will inform further development of carbon trading rules in NSW.

Completion: July 2009

Low rainfall forestry and carbon sequestration

NSW DPI is undertaking several projects researching potential for low rainfall forestry to deliver carbon sequestration benefits.

NSW DPI is undertaking a pilot project with Catchment Management Authorities (CMAs), funded through the NSW Greenhouse Plan, to develop a system whereby CMAs can act as carbon pool managers on behalf of landholders, to facilitate participation in the GGAS carbon trading market, and thereby provide an incentive for revegetation.

Completion: December 2008

Developing Elite Trees for economically viable forest plantations in low rainfall sites

The project aims to develop elite germplasm (seed and clones) of alternative species of Eucalyptus that have the potential to produce economically viable forest plantations in low rainfall areas (such as the Hunter Valley, South West Slopes and North West Slope and Plains). Selection of the elite germplasm will be based on growth, wood density and their ability to sequestrate carbon.

Completion:  June 2009

Improving methods to reliably estimate C sequestration by environmental plantings.

NSW DPI is collaborating with Lachlan CMA and CSIRO (ensis) in a Climate Action Grant project to develop a reliable tool for estimating C sequestration by environmental plantings in NSW. Lack of  reliable models and inventory methodologies is a major impediment to incorporation of such plantings in C trading schemes. As a consequence, landholders are denied income that would increase planting rates with consequent benefits for greenhouse abatement, and meeting of statewide NRM targets. Activities funded will address technical and management issues, and facilitate landowner participation in the NSW GGAS and potentially in other C trading schemes. Findings will be shared with other CMAs.

Completion: June 2009

Ground cover maintenance

As part of the WEST 2000 Plus initiated Enterprise Based Conservation pilot program, NSW DPI is evaluating the practicality of an incentive system for Western Division graziers that provides financial incentives for maintenance or improvement of ground cover (mostly in the form of grass/shrub litter in summer rainfall areas or cryptogamic crusts in winter rainfall areas). Such a scheme might be included in a national emissions trading scheme, along with other agricultural offsets.

 

Agriculture

Livestock - Methane emissions from livestock

NSW DPI is continuing research to (1) quantify the mitigation arising from selection of beef cattle for improved net feed efficiency in Australia, both at an individual animal and at a national herd level; (2) quantify the animal productivity and methane mitigation benefits of modifying gut ecology by elimination of ciliate protozoa from the rumen; (3) develop new methodologies for measurement of methane production by ruminant livestock, to estimate energy expenditure and potentially energetic efficiency of cattle.

Various projects will be completed between December 2007 and June 2008.

Soils

Soil carbon sequestration market-based instruments (MBIs): A literature review (April 2010)

Industry & Investment NSW and NSW Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water are undertaking research to design and test a market-based instrument (MBI) that supports land managers to adopt practices that increase soil carbon. As part of this research, they have engaged the authors (from the Resources, Energy and Environmental Markets Lab (REEML) at the University of Sydney) to provide an initial review concerning the application of market-based instruments to encourage soil carbon sequestration.

This literature review examines the current state of knowledge about MBIs with specific reference to their application to soil carbon sequestration. The review considers both MBIs that are based on actual measurements of soil-sequestered carbon and MBIs based on proxy changes in land management. The relative advantages and disadvantages of these alternative approaches are considered.

The conclusions of this review do not necessarily represent the views of Industry & Investment NSW and NSW Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water.

See Soil carbon sequestration market-based instruments (MBIs): A literature review (April 2010).

Management of soil organic carbon

NSW DPI is continuing research into use of recycled organics in agriculture and forestry as a soil amendment to supply nutrients and sequester carbon, including application in mine site rehabilitation. NSW DPI has commenced research into use of char as a soil amendment to sequester carbon, and improve water holding capacity and nutrient cycling.

Soil carbon changes

A program of work is being carried out by NSW DPI and Department of Environment and Climate Change soil scientists, in collaboration with colleagues from other agencies including CSIRO. DECC and NSW DPI researchers are collaborating with the Australian Greenhouse Office (AGO) and CSIRO Land and Water to measure:

(i) Soil C change under tillage systems, looking specifically at the relative effects of combinations of tillage and stubble retention treatments on soil C sequestration; and

(ii) Soil C changes following revegetation of previous agricultural areas. NSW DPI researchers, with funding from the NSW Climate Action Grants, are investigating the impacts on soil carbon of alternative crop and pasture management systems. 

Increasing soil carbon sequestration of NSW agricultural soils by better managing pastures

Pastures are an important component of farming systems in NSW, providing diversity, maintaining soil fertility and with perennial pastures, reducing dryland salinity risks. However, little information is available on the soil carbon sequestration potenital of pastures in farming systems in southern New South Wales.

Using soil carbon data from two long-term field experiments (since 1979 and 1992) and regional sites in central and southern NSW, this project aims to qunatify such soil carbon sequestration potential. The data will then be used to identify the optimal management practices (pasture types, grazing and nutrient management) to maximise soil carbon sequestration under different farming systems, soil types and climatic conditions using modelling.

Carbon sequestration under summer/ winter response cropping in north western NSW

Soil samples were collected from six cropping and perennial pasture systems over a period of six years (1994–2000) in a replicated field experiment on the Liverpool Plains. The objective is to determine whether the exceptional biomass productivity and hydraulic stability of zero-tillage summer/winter response cropping on the cracking clay soils of north-western NSW translate into net carbon sequestration. Results showed little association between biomass productivity and soil C accumulation; the largest rates were associated with perennial growth (lucerne and grass pastures) and the near perennial growth mimicked by very frequent response cropping. Response cropping at this intensity is very unlikely in practice.

Completion: June 2008

Impact of recycled organics on soil carbon

Work by NSW DPI has found that recycled organic amendments such as green waste derived composts, char and biosolids have been shown to improve plant growth and many soil chemical and physical properties. Whilst soil organic carbon is maintained or increased through the application of recycled, the persistence of the SOC in the soil and its longer term nature (determined by the proportion of different organic fractions) has not been investigated. NSW DPI researchers, with funding from the NSW Climate Action Grant are building on previous work by analysing existing soil samples for organic matter and assessing the labile and recalcitrant fraction. Older sites are also being re-sampled (>15yrs). The objectives are to: 

  • Determine the total, labile and recalcitrant fractions of soil organic matter before and sequentially after amendment with recycled organics
  • Assess the efficacy of different recycled organics in increasing and maintaining soil carbon stocks over time
  • Maximise the role of recycled organics in the long term enhancement of soil carbon. 

Completion: August 2009

Soil carbon assessment and rehabilitation: Landholders develop and implement new practices

DPI and Richmond Landcare have gained funding from the National Landcare Programme Community Support, for an initial 12 month period to complete a project with the following objectives:

  • To understand the nature of carbon fractions in farming soils under various best management practices in the northern rivers. 
  • To measure and account for greenhouse gas emissions (CO2, N2O) from farms using existing management practices.
  • To implement, test, demonstrate and promote a technology (application of biochar) that results in significant carbon gain in soil, while at the same time significantly reducing emissions of N2O to the atmosphere. This technology holds significant potential for rehabilitation of degraded land through rapid enhancement of stable and high surface area carbon.

This Community Project will identify 7 farms in the Northern Rivers which are representative of significant agricultural pursuits in the area. In addition, up to 3 control sites (eg native bushland, rainforest) will also be identified and sampled. Of these sites, 2 will be established as trial sites for the application of black carbon (agrichar) to the soil. On-ground activities will include a detailed benchmark assessment and characterisation of soil carbon at the 7 sites and assessment of greenhouse gas emissions from these soils.

Land management to increase soil carbon sequestration in NSW

A group of soil scientists from NSW DPI and DECC has received funding from the NSW Greenhouse Office under the Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Projects program (GGERPP) to develop cost-effective methods for estimating soil C and evaluate a range of management practices with potential to promote soil C sequestration in agricultural, pastoral and forests systems in NSW. Changed land use and land management practices have significant potential to sequester carbon in soil. Monitoring soil organic C to document change is not a viable option for estimation of soil C dynamics in agricultural and forest systems, whether for inventory purposes or for carbon trading, due to the enormous variability in organic C stocks on micro and macro scales which limits the capacity to detect small changes over short time periods against a large and variable background of existing soil organic matter. Instead, estimation of soil C change will rely on understanding the underlying factors driving soil organic C dynamics, and the development of well-calibrated models that simulate impacts of management on soil organic C. The AGO’s greenhouse accounting model FullCAM incorporates Rothamsted soil C model (RothC) for estimating soil C dynamics. The FullCAM model requires calibration and validation to improve its ability to estimate soil C change under a range of NSW agricultural and forestry systems.

This project aims to: 

  • Develop capacity to use a rapid and cost-effective method for measuring soil C based on mid-infra red spectroscopy. 
  • Assess macro- and micro-scale variability of soil C stocks in diverse landscapes to aid quantification of soil C stock.
  • Examine the dynamics of soil C sequestration as a result of land management changes, including revegetation, altered crop rotations and grazing management.
  • Examine the ability of organic amendments, particularly bio-char, to increase soil C stocks 
  • Contribute experimental data to calibrate and parameterise the carbon accounting model FullCAM, to improve our capacity to estimate the potential for changed land management to increase soil C stocks, and to provide a calculation tool for emissions trading.

Completion: June 2009

Fluxes of N2O and CH4 from forest soils

It is important to understand factors affecting fluxes of the powerful greenhouse gases methane and nitrous oxide, so that they can be accounted accurately, and mitigation measures can be devised. Very few studies on fluxes of N2O and CH4 have been undertaken in Australia, and none have been conducted in forests (Dalal et al. 2003). Because they are affected by soil disturbance, soil temperature and moisture, fertiliser application and N inputs from grazing animals, reforestation is likely to alter the fluxes of these gases.

NSW DPI is collaborating with Ensis, CSIRO L&W and Queensland DNR&M to study N2O  and CH4 fluxes during pasture–plantation transitions. The project, funded by AGO, will quantify in situ N2O emission rates and CH4 fluxes for hardwood and softwood plantations of different ages in climatically different regions of Australia (NSW, Qld, WA).

Soil moisture and temperature data measured concurrently with gas fluxes, investigation of diurnal flux patterns, and laboratory incubations studies will all be used to develop understanding of the processes driving N2O and methane emissions. The objective of the project is to utilise this knowledge to improve the predictive ability of the FullCAM model for estimating nitrous oxide and methane emissions during the transition from pasture to plantation. 

Bioenergy

  • NSW DPI is actively involved in bioenergy activities through participation in  Bioenergy Australia (peak government-industry forum) and representing Australia at the International Energy Agency Bioenergy fora on ‘Short rotation crops for bioenergy systems’ and ‘Greenhouse gas balances of biomass and bioenergy systems’.
  • Through the CRC Future Farm Industries, NSW DPI is working with Victoria, Western Australia and South Australia to investigate the suitability and productive capacity of native woody species for bioenergy production, that may be integrated into farming systems for the 300 – 700 mm rainfall zone.
  • NSW DPI has formed an alliance with the University of New England, to create the Primary Industries Innovation Centre.  Biofuels and biomass energy have been identified as a key future program of this Centre and alliances with industry and researchers are being pursued.    

NSW DPI is collaborating with UNE on a project funded under the NSW Government’s Climate Technology Action Grants to examine candidate feedstocks for ligno-cellulosic ethanol production and identify best bet feedstocks from the point of view of their availability, environmental impact, and possible pre-fermentation and fermentation techniques to optimise their use.

Completion: June 2009

NSW DPI is developing with Crucible Carbon and the University of Newcastle the concept of the “NSW Carbon Pump”, aimed at accelerating and scaling up projects for large scale bioenergy production from novel sources (e.g. algae) and concurrent production of biochar for carbon sequestration in agricultural and mine rehabilitation uses.

Developing Second Generation (Gen-2) Biofuels

L-R: NSW DPI's Shane McIntosh and Dr Tony Vancov

L-R: NSW DPI's Shane McIntosh and Dr Tony Vancov

First generation biofuels such as ethanol and bio-diesel are derived from agricultural crops and therefore compete with food and fibre production for water and/or fertile land. The ability of first generation biofuels to satisfy Australia’s principles of ecologically sustainable development is also the subject of increasing public debate.

Second generation biofuels include those which use ligno-cellulosic biomass to produce ethanol. However, these technologies are not yet commercially available. The development of second generation biofuels has the potential to replace the first generation biofuels and more effectively reduce Australia’s reliance on fossil fuels and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the transport sector.

Second generation biofuel technologies have the potential to supplement fuel supplies in a sustainable manner by deriving biofuel from low cost, non-food materials or “waste” materials such as crop residues, forestry residues, algae, or tropical grasses. They may also be more readily adapted to land unsuitable for traditional food crops. Producing fuels from these materials also has the potential to significantly improve the cost effectiveness of biofuels.

Developing a sustainable, greenhouse-friendly biofuels industry based on sound science and located in regional NSW is the focus of a new research project being undertaken by the Primary Industries Innovation Centre (PIIC). PIIC is spending $740,000 over two years to investigate the technical issues behind setting up a biofuels industry using novel feedstocks.

Primary objectives of the research are to:

  • Identify sources of biofuels, particularly those which derive from native plants,
    Evaluate and develop pre-treatment strategies, particularly for feedstock native to Australia,
  • Assess and improve existing microorganisms to overcome problems associated with ethanol production from lignocellulosic hydrolysates,
  • Determine the key natural resource management issues relevant to providing selected feedstocks, and
  • Provide the science needed to produce optimal outcomes for individual enterprises and regions.

Dr Tony Vancov and Mr Shane McIntosh at the Wollongbar Agricultural Institute are assessing likely lignocellulose feedstock candidates. They have established a pre-treatment laboratory and lab-scale procedures have been developed. Three commercial cellulase enzyme preparations have been evaluated and preferred preparations have been selected for future work; Tony and Shane are well advanced with pre-treatment assessment of bagasse feedstock and have commenced assessment of forage and grain sorghum residues. The sorghum residues have created some excitement with unexpectedly high levels of sugars.

Tony is also exploring opportunities for collaboration with Ethtec which is the first commercial venture in Australia of next generation biofuel production. Ethtec has established a pilot ligno-cellulosic plant at the Harwood sugar mill near Grafton.

The project is funded by a $440,000 grant from the NSW Department of Environment and Climate Change and $300,000 in-kind support from NSW DPI and UNE.

Contact: Dr Tony Vancov tony.vancov@dpi.nsw.gov.au 

Mining

Geosequestration

The Department of Primary Industries through the Government’s “Exploration NSW” and “New Frontiers” initiatives is active in identifying potential geological formations for the disposal of carbon dioxide.

NSW DPI is exploring possible involvement in the Coal 21 initiative, a collaboration between the coal and power industries and State and national governments, that aims to reduce or eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from coal-based electricity generation in Australia. The NSW Government is a participant in the Coal21 National Action Plan, which identifies a number of emerging technologies that hold the key to reducing or even eliminating emissions from coal. These include technologies to capture CO2 emissions from power stations and permanently store them in underground geological structures, a strategy the Action Plan identifies as the pathway to achieving near zero emissions from coal.

The NSW DPI is working with research groups such as CSIRO and the CO2 CRC in assessing potential storage sites in NSW.

Some current projects involving the NSW DPI include:

  • Sydney Basin Reservoir Prediction project, which will develop an understanding of the stratigraphic architecture and provenance of key basin fill sequences, with an emphasis on predicting the distribution and character of saline aquifers suitable for carbon dioxide sequestration.
  • Darling Basin Reservoir Study: The Darling Basin in central NSW has significant potential for the large scale storage of CO2 into deep saline aquifers. A total of 16 areas of interest have been identified in the Darling basin as having reservoir and seal potential at subsurface depths appropriate for CO2 sequestration.

Integrated Capture and Storage Demonstration Project

The priority for NSW is the successful large-scale demonstration of the technical, economic, and environmental performance of the technologies that make up all of the major components of a large-scale integrated CCS system (capture, transportation and storage).

Such a demonstration of post combustion capture at an existing power station is essential prior to implementation at gigatonne scale to address a future carbon mitigation policy, as well as for easing the trade-off between restraining emissions from fossil resource use and meeting future energy needs

The Low Emission Technology Demonstration Fund (LETDF) is funding a number of projects across Australia with the aim of demonstrating large scale low emission technologies. Projects funded to date are:

Solar Systems: Solar concentrator power station (Victoria)
CS Energy: Retrofit oxy-fuel technology with carbon capture and storage (CCS) (Queensland).
International Power: Retrofit brown coal drying (Victoria) and PCC pilot plant
Fairview Power: Coal seam methane extraction, with CCS (Queensland).
Gorgon (Chevron): LNG production, with large CCS (Western Australia)
HRL International: integrated drying gasification combined-cycle (IDGCC) power generation plant (Victoria)

While a number of projects listed above are proposing geosequestration of CO2, no existing project is planning to test an integrated demonstration of Carbon capture and storage at an existing conventional pulverised coal combustion power station. This is a critical gap in the current portfolio of demonstration projects and is an essential component if NSW is to achieve significant reduction of CO2 emissions from existing power stations. 

The cost of the project is estimated to be $150 million. To date the NSW Government has committed $20 million towards the project with the Australian Coal Association agreeing to match the NSW contribution. A business case has been prepared to seek additional funding for the project.

Ultra Clean Coal

The Ultra Clean Coal (UCC) technology and process is being developed by UCC Energy Pty Limited in co-operation with the CSIRO and is supported by both the Federal and State Governments. Since 2002, a pilot plant near Cessnock has been producing Ultra Clean Coal (UCC). The UCC project is unique as unlike other clean coal technologies it is based on Australian owned technologies. The NSW Government has supported the project through a land grant near Cessnock valued at $1.9 million. The technology will produce high purity, cleaned coal for direct burning in gas turbines to generate electricity.

Munmorah PCC Pilot Plant

Delta Electricity is working with CSIRO to jointly develop a $5 million research scale pilot facility at Munmorah Power Station to capture (and release) up to 5,000 tonnes per year of CO2. It is proposed to use an ammonia absorption process as it may be more tolerant to acid contamination in the flue gas when compared with amine reagents. A post combustion capture (PCC) technology has been chosen for the pilot as it is a prospective retrofit technology and is complimentary to other carbon capture and storage demonstration projects under development in Australia.

National Geoscience Mapping Accord

Within the framework of the National Geoscience Mapping Accord DPI is conducting a number of projects with geoscience Australia which will provide base geological data on NSW sedimentary basins.

Additional work is currently being undertaken to further characterise these areas of interest including a program of work involving seismic and deep drilling.

A DEM (digital elevation model) that shows the locations of 16 potential CO2 traps

A DEM (digital elevation model) that shows the locations of 16 potential CO2 traps

The figure (right) is a DEM image (digital elevation model) that shows the locations of the 16 AOI (Areas of Interest) where potential traps are associated with predicted or identified reservoir units (indicated by the red polygons).

The main population centres in the region are also shown (yellow dots=Broken Hill, Cobar, White Cliffs, Wilcannia and Ivanhoe). The blue polygons show the extent of the Darling Basin depocentres where an AOI has been ranked.

Those depocentres which contain AOI that have not been ranked are shown by the light green polygons. The DEM also shows the location of the Darling River and the surrounding creeks that comprise the surface drainage basin, relative to the AOI which occur in the subsurface.

Gunnedah Basin Storage Assessment Project

In conjunction with CO2CRC DPI is conducting an assessment of the storage potential of the Gunnedah Basin.

Clarence Moreton SeeBase Study

A SeeBase structural framework study has commenced in the Clarence Moreton Basin. This is a first step in developing an assessment of the storage potential of the Basin.