No wasted opportunities

Distinct advantage: When properly recycled and converted, biomass has distinct advantages and outcomes over other forms of energy sources.

Once you throw your rubbish into your wheelie bin, you probably don’t give it much more thought.

No longer viable: Putting rubbish into a landfill such as the local tip is becoming unviable, and new landfills are not being approved by the EPA in Victoria.

It goes out to be picked up by the council-contracted garbage truck, which you pay for throughrates, and that’s the end of it.

In reality what you think you are sending off to landfill or recycling could potentially be heating and lighting your home and fueling your car. It’s been a valuable yetunder-valued resource.

Until now.

The second Australian Waste to Energy Forum was held in Ballarat this week. Representatives from the energy and recycling industries, local, stateand federal government and other environmental bodiesmet to explore the burgeoning future of converting an ever-expanding waste supplyinto a viable energy resource.

It’s not too far in the past that packaging was a less sophisticated and organised industry than it is today. Much of a household’s waste was re-used or recycled. Think milk bottles, kerosene tins or wooden fruit crates. Any waste that couldn’t be re-used was sent to the tip –either a waste area away from town, or a disused quarry or mine site.

As populations and urban sprawl grew, these areas became incorporated into housing estates and were bulldozed under the earth. The associated problems of methane buildup, odourand chemical seepage are now evident. Waste landfills are fast becoming economically and ecologically unviable.

No new landfill site has been approved in the western region of Victoria since the 1990s, and acting director of planning and development at the City of Ballarat Angelique Lush says the council is uniquely placed to take advantage ofnew waste-to-energy technologies as the Smythesdale landfill nears the end of its life.

“Our objective is to get as much waste out of landfill as possible, as it’s costing a lot of money and will cost more in the future,” says Ms Lush.

“It’s not sustainable and we need to look at alternatives.”

The removal of organic waste –biomass – from Ballarat’s rubbish has reduced landfill by such an extent that dumped amounts are at levels similar to 40 years ago, says Ms Lush.

At the same time recycling has increased exponentially. Ms Lush says this means Ballarat has the opportunity to use collected biomass to create energy in the plant mooted for the Ballarat West Employment Zone (BWEZ).

Council is not wedded to any particular energy facility at this point, Ms Lush said.

“We need to provide all the data in terms of what we have as feedstock (waste matter) and what we want to achieve,” Ms Lush said.

“We’ll then assess all bids from the process.”

Early speculation suggested a biodigestion plant may be suitable for the BWEZ; however participants at the waste-to-energy forum told The Courier that the sector was moving ahead so quickly that new options such as high-intensity incinerators and plasma gasification could now be considered as viable alternatives.

“You want something that is scalable, small enough to suit Ballarat,” says Downer Group’s business development manager Barry Sullivan.

The industrial consultancy firm specialises in analysing feasibility options for the public and private sector in a number of areas.

“You see projects fail because the feedstock fails. A lot of what we talk about is thermal technologies –they’ll take basically anything. Then it’s a case of ‘what does my technology do…steam, biofuels, hydrogen. It’s flexible.’”

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