Beaufort and Skipton Health Services is working with Pyrenees Shire Council, a group of local farmers and a bioenergy consultant to establish a biomass boiler at its Skipton campus.
It is a move to further reduce the health services' energy costs and environmental impact while setting an example of the ability to adopt alternative energy in regional communities.
The new Skipton project follows the success of a biomass boiler that has been heating the Beaufort hospital and aged care facility with waste wood chips from the local timber mill since 2014.
Beaufort and Skipton Health Service chief executive Meryn Pease said it was an exciting project that had the potential to be a model for other small regional health services in the region.
"If we can get this working really well it has applicability to a lot of small health services west of us who have access to straw as a by product," she said.
WHAT IS BIOENERGY?
Bioenergy uses biomass (any organic matter of recently living plant or animal origin) to generate electricity and heat.
The Beaufort system uses waste woodchip from local sawmill Pyrenees Timber to provide heating and hot water to the hospital and aged care home.
Watch the video below from 2018 with Beaufort and Skipton Health Services' former CEO and maintenance officer to understand the Beaufort bioenergy system.
Burning the wood waste heats hot water which is then used in hot water radiators throughout the facility.
The Skipton project will follow the same process but using a different fuel source.
The project's governance body plans to install a multi-fuel boiler that will burn straw pellets sourced from local farmers, with the potential to use other fuel sources from farm waste like olive pits or nut shells.
Bioenergy consultant Daryl Scherger said this multi-fuel technology would provide more flexibility with fuel supplies rather than relying on one type of fuel.
FROM WASTE TO RESOURCE
The Skipton bioenergy project will turn what farmers once considered a waste into a resource that will provide an alternative income stream.
Nine farmers involved in the Skipton bioenergy project produce 50,000 tonnes of straw each year that is commonly burnt in paddocks.
The group of farmers is planning to harvest that wasted energy by converting the straw into pellets and selling it to the health service to power the new biomass boiler.
It is capturing that energy spend and keeping it in the local community rather than paying LPG suppliers outside the region.
The Skipton hospital boiler will require an input of 200 tonnes each year.
Pyrenees Shire Council economic development manager Ray Davies said the project would help farmers develop an extra income stream while helping the hospital manage the rising cost of LPG and reduce emissions.
"It is capturing that energy spend and keeping it in the local community rather than paying LPG suppliers outside the region," he said.
In the Central Highlands region 670,000 tonnes of straw is produced each year.
In the Wimmera Southern Mallee 470,000 tonnes of straw is produced annually.
That is more than one million tonnes of straw produced in the region each year that has potential to be converted into energy.
THE SKIPTON PROJECT
The governing body for the Skipton bioenergy project is now working to select a supplier for the biomass boiler and appoint a someone to install it by the end of the year.
It is hoped the project will be completed by winter next year, with a project deadline at the end of 2020.
Mr Scherger said the system the team was currently looking at is produced in Poland and would arrive set up ready for connection in a container, but the cost remained high due to a lack of take up of the technology in Australia.
"We are facing what I often call the chicken and egg problem. Because nobody is installing there are no suppliers and nobody is installing because they are no suppliers," he said.
"That is in Australia. In Europe you would ring up the local plumber and he would deliver one. There it is standard. In Sweden 36 per cent of their total energy use is supplied by bioenergy. We need to get over that hurdle of having enough in place to have suppliers and fuel supplies readily available.
"The farmers are really going out on a limb. They are putting their neck out to start producing fuel for which there is at this stage only one very small market."
Beaufort and Skipton Health Services chief executive Meryn Pease said more hospitals and health services were considering alternative sources of energy as rising energy costs place increasing pressure on already tight budgets.
"The biggest deficit now in winter is the heating component, so if we can use this energy to fill that gap for us at a cheaper cost we are going to be saving and that money we can reinvest back into services for our community," she said.
"It is exciting to be the demonstration site to show what can be done."
Mr Scherger said Beaufort and Skipton Health Services was a leader in bioenergy.
"This health organisation has been amazing. It is not happening anywhere else in the state," he said.
"It is something we need to do.
The prices are only going to go up and the farmers can produce straw pellets cheaper than gas. For residents, home owners and industry, the opportunities are there. It is just a matter of getting it to happen."
The $315,000 project has received $273,600 funding from the state government, with remaining costs covered by Beaufort and Skipton Health Services.