Tweed ‘ideal’ for biochar project - TweedEcho - Murray Simpson
Ballina Shire is poised to embrace cutting-edge technology to turn its growing green waste problem into electricty and fertiliser while Tweed is wavering in the wings.
Ballina has captured national attention with its plans to build a pyrolysis plant to manufacture biochar from green waste and to fire a power generator with the syngas produced as a by-product.
‘We’ll be hitting the no or go button within six months,’ said Ballina Council’s director of waste management Rod Dawson.
Meanwhile Tweed Shire Council’s head of waste management Adam Faulkner said biochar technology was only one of a number of options being examined and he could not second-guess which way they would go. And he said any move would be at least six or seven years away.
Ballina’s plant, costing $9 million, will handle two tonnes of green waste an hour operating 24 hours a day and will be four times the size of a pilot plant operating at Summersby on the NSW Central Coast.
The plant will heat waste matter to between 400 and 500 degrees C in the absence of oxygen breaking the matter down into 50 per cent syngas and the balance biochar which has remarkable properties as a fertiliser.
Driving the Ballina project are legislative changes governing landfills.
‘We will not be granted permission to open up new landfill sites unless we commit to a new kerbside green waste service,’ said Mr Dawson.‘And this in turn will generate more green waste than we, or most other councils, can currently deal with. We could wind up with compost mountains.’
Ballina’s green waste service, which handles both garden clippings and kitchen scraps, starts on July 4.
‘Of course that’s way too soon for our plant to be running but in the meantime Lismore will take our surplus waste and process it at their conventional windrow composting facility. It will give us a chance to get up and running.
We haven’t jumped into this in haste. Nine million dollars is a lot of money for a small shire like ours,’ said Mr Dawson.
‘We’ve been developing our business plan for over two years in close consultation with Pacific Pyrolysis, a private company.’
Ballina’s venture has been closely watched by biochar expert Paul Taylor of Mount Warning, a retired astrophysicist living in Mount Warning who recently published an authoritative work, The Biochar Revolution.
Dr Taylor said biochar was based on a very ancient technique involving cooking green waste in the absence of air.
‘Biochar was used by pre-Columbian Indians in the Amazon to create oases of fertility in the notoriously poor and leached rainforest soils. The ‘midden’ soils known as terra preta, or black earth, were of human derivation using sophisticated fire management techniques’, said Dr Taylor.
‘Biochar has been shown to raise soil fertility markedly while locking away vast quantities of carbon in a stable form that won’t be released back into the atmosphere for thousands of years’, he said.
It has also been very effective when mixed with conventional fertilisers.
‘They found you need much less commercial fertiliser to achieve the same result,’ he said.
Dr Taylor said Tweed’s cane industry was ideally placed to take advantage of pyrolysis technology.
‘A limiting factor is transport costs hauling waste to the pyrolysis plant. The cane industry, however, already has a transport network in place hauling cane to the mill and returning the waste to the farms.’
‘A pyrolysis plant adjacent to the Condong mill would be ideal, providing combustible oils to the steam generators and producing a valuable fertiliser at the same time.’
Biochar is currently selling at about $400 a tonne.
‘The current system of feeding raw green waste into the furnaces sees the bulk of the matter being burnt leaving a small quantity of ash. It also leaves behind a good deal of potash which creates problems for the furnaces’, said Dr Taylor.
‘A pyrolysis plant, on the other hand, leaves the potassium or potash in the biochar.’
Dr Taylor said one inhibiting factor for the biochar industry was the lack of stability in the price on carbon.
‘The government keeps changing its mind on fixing a price,’ he said.
‘It deters potential investors from coming into the industry.’
Nevertheless biochar in the Tweed is already attracting commercial attention.
Black is Gold Pty Ltd based in Maleny, Queensland, has confirmed it has opened negotiations with a group at Kunghur for the supply of biochar.
Black is Gold director Dr Stan Joyce said if the Kunghur group can produce sufficient quantities at the right quality then his company is prepared to purchase in 20 tonne consignments with a view of establishing a long-term contract.
It is understood Black is Gold is also negotiating a similar deal in Kyogle and at other sites in NSW, Victoria and Queensland.
Fancy building your own pyrolysis plant in your own back yard?
You can find out how at a workshop hosted by biochar enthusiast Paul Taylor.
The five-day biochar ‘boot camp’ at Eagle Farm eco park at Tyagarah airfield near Byron Bay starting April 30 will feature experts from round the world.
And Dr Taylor said there will be hands-on instruction on building a back yard plant.
For more information contact Dr Taylor on 02 6679 5259 or firstname.lastname@example.org.