October 26, 2010 | General

Organics Recycling In The Land Down Under (Australia)

BioCycle October 2010, Vol. 51, No. 10, p. 29
Exploring waste to resources, renewable energy and more sustainable farming practices.
Dan Sullivan

JUSTIN Vianello is commercial director for Quantum Power Limited, a Queensland-based company specializing in helping farmers and food processors turn their open ponds for waste storage into covered systems that capture energy while addressing environmental concerns. “The company was founded ten years ago and was focused on ways to manage organic waste,” says Vianello. “In the past four to five years, the company narrowed its focus specifically on the management of anaerobic waste ponds, and covering these ponds to produce biogas and provide on-site power for their clients in Australia.”
Vianello explains that that the ability to secure renewable energy credits, combined with his company’s ability to procure and modify biogas engines at a significantly reduced cost compared to other commercially available engines, made the business prospect a viable one. Add to that, looming carbon tax legislation, and you have a recipe for financial success.
The model works as follows: Quantum Power installs its electricity generation infrastructure and covers the anaerobic pond, and uses the produced biogas to generate onsite electricity which it sells to the client. Any excess power is sold back to the grid for additional savings to the client; Quantum Power retains ownership of the equipment and covers the capital cost of the installation.
“Our clients have large production facilities – they basically consume all the electricity we produce,” says Vianello. “We help them deal with environmental waste issues, cover their ponds, reduce emissions, help rectify EPA [Environmental Protection Authority] concerns, improve the quality of their wastewater and capture biogas to produce power for the site. We see ourselves as solving an environmental issue while at same time helping clients’ reduce their power bill.” Currently the company services the largest meat rendering plant and one of the largest dairies in Australia.
“Before Quantum Power installed its infrastructure at the meat rendering plant in Queensland, Australia, the site was diverting its effluent into uncovered ponds, which would crust over and slowly digest the organic matter,” says Vianello. “Our system significantly increases the digestion rate and allows us to capture the biogas, which in turn reduces odor. Before Quantum Power covered the anaerobic ponds, the methane gas – which makes up the largest component of the biogas [65 percent] – was being released into the atmosphere.”
Australia offers a fledgling market for renewable energy from organics, Vianello adds. “Due to the abundant supply of fossil fuels in Australia, the feasibility of producing power in this manner was in question,” he says. “But as electricity prices have started to rise aggressively over a short period of time, and so now the Australian market is now looking at alternative sources of producing power.” The possibility of a carbon tax, together with increased pressure from Australia’s EPA, is helping Quantum Power achieve traction in the market, Vianello says, adding that carbon has become a front-and-center issue in the current federal election (with the incumbent prime minister promising to levy one). “It’s really now about what the price is going to be on carbon. We’re now actually having clients ask us specifically how many tons of CO2 they will be reducing through our installations.”
As well as good timing, developing efficient technology has figured largely into Quantum Power’s success. “We buy purpose-built biogas engines out of Asia and significantly retrofit them to comply with Australian standards,” Vianello says. “Ignition and control systems are imported from our partners in Germany, and all installations are done at our Queensland facility. Our first two installation have really been a start for our company, and we are now working closely with many promising Australian prospects.”

Bananas Over Compost
Red Valley Compost is a new venture of the family-owned Swiss Farms based in Lakeland (also in Queensland) Australia. “We’re banana farmers – we grow bananas and we use banana waste as feedstock among about six other [feedstocks],” explains Peter Inderbitzin, whose family has found that application of compost over the years has helped reduce the use of chemical fertilizers while improving soil structure, water retention, soil organic matter content and microbial activity. So impressed have they been with the application of compost on their own farm that they imported a SCARAB compost turner from the U.S. and decided to increase production for sale to other farmers, orchardists, retail outlets, landscapers and home gardeners.
“In addition to banana waste, we compost green waste mulch from all the different councils – every region has a recycling or green waste disposal place where they collect it, grind it up and it’s available for sale to anyone,” says Inderbitzin. “We buy a fair bit of that, as well as wet chicken manure from a farm that produces about 50 tons a week. Dry manure is also used, mixed with sawdust from the poultry farms, where they fatten chooks for places like McDonalds and KFC. Other feedstocks include grass and legumes cut off of our farm with a conventional self-propelled silage chopper, bagasse left over from sugarcane, mill ash (burnt bagasse), mill mud (wet topsoil the harvesters pick up when harvesting the cane) and about 15 percent treated and precomposted biosolids.”
Tip fees are relatively nonexistent, Inderbitzin explains, and so not only must he pay transportation costs for feedstocks trucked in from great distances, he has to pay for any material that doesn’t come directly off his farm. “I don’t make anything on tipping fees because there’s no such thing here,” he explains. “The big companies and big actors in the game get paid to take product and then resell the by-product. We buy the by-product.”
“For example, there’s a Bedminster composting plant in the city 260 kilometers (162 miles) away. The company that owns the facility makes about 150 tons of compost material from about 300 tons/day of rubbish they take in. We purchase a part of that and add it to our compost rows. It’s got a bit of a problem with glass in it – they aren’t able to get all the glass out.”
Inderbitzin is still in the trial and error phase with commercial composting, evaluating variables such as contaminants in one feedstock and public perception over another. “It’s still early days for us. We’ve only had product for sale in the last three months. We’ve composted in the vicinity of 12,000 tons this year, and the site is big enough to do 20,000 tons. How this all started of course is that we were growing bananas, and bananas need a terrific amount of fertilizer – the more you put on, the more bananas you get. You also take a lot of material off the land when you harvest bananas, and so you need to put more on. We started to say ‘We can’t see how this can remain sustainable over time’ and that’s why we started with compost. Now we have to fine tune the feedstocks we are using and decide whether some are worth the risk to use or not.”
“Due to the application of compost on our 600-acre banana farm, we have very successfully been able to reduce the chemical fertilizer input by 50 percent and are producing the best quality bananas in Australia.”

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