Home-grown waste treatment heads overseas

By Carolyn Jackson, Editor
Friday, 23 March, 2007

Vital Resource Management (VRM) has been able to develop for export a microbial product that removes contaminants from wastewater through the use of a government tax concession.

The Townsville-based company first used its microbial product commercially in 1998, when it was called to a sugar mill to clean up a molasses spill which operators feared would close their facility for up to seven weeks.

Less than five hours after VRM put its inoculation product to work, the risk of extreme odour from the spill had been removed and the mill remained open.

This spill enabled the company to prove the effectiveness of its approach to controlling odour and removing sugar and other contaminants from wastewater.

The technology introduces 'friendly bugs' to fight the 'bad bugs' responsible for odour, fat build-up and other septic matter found in wastes.

It is based on a managed microbial balance using probiotic techniques and organisms which are known for their use in food and drinks.

By the time of that first molasses spill, VRM founder and managing director Ken Bellamy had been advocating this approach to controlling waste for many years. It was only after the success of the molasses clean-up that he was invited to explain how his products worked to engineers in the sugar industry.

Once the technology gained acceptance, Bellamy turned to AusIndustry for assistance in growing the business.

The R&D Tax Concession is designed to fuel local research and development and is available to all sectors of industry. Best of all, each company controls the direction of its R&D.

This means Australian companies are able to deduct up to 125% of eligible expenditure that is incurred on R&D activities from assessable income when lodging their tax returns.

The concession is administered through AusIndustry on behalf of the Industry Research and Development Board (IR&D) and the Australian Taxation Office (ATO).

VRM has now expanded its product range to include three lines: inoculation programs for wastewater and sewerage standalone waste treatment systems, domestic cleaning products and bio-fertilisers.

"Our products are regularly trucked up and down the East Coast. We operate on standing orders for the season," Bellamy says.

To qualify for the R&D Tax Concession, a company's R&D activities must meet a range of criteria.

  • Systematic, investigative and experimental activities which: involve innovation; involve high levels of technical risk; are carried on for the purpose of acquiring new knowledge; or creating new or improved materials, products, devices, processes or services.
  • Other activities which are directly related to the undertaking of the above activities.
  • The subject of an approved R&D plan.

Companies can claim the concession by completing the ATO R&D Tax Concession Schedule and the relevant labels in their tax return. But before claiming the concession, businesses must be registered by the IR&D Board for that year of income.

A company's annual expenditure on research and development must also be more than $20,000 to qualify - unless the work is contracted to a Registered Research Agency - and all R&D must be undertaken on a company's behalf.

VRM has been making use of the concession since 2002 and Bellamy says it has enabled the company to expand its research and development capabilities.

"The R&D Tax Offset has allowed us to expand our laboratory, and it's also helped us to purchase land to put our test facility on," Bellamy says. Since 2002, the company has claimed research and development expenditure of more than $1.3 million.

With an aim of increasing its annual turnover from around $1.3 million to $10 million within the next five years, VRM's next target is the European market, where the environmental benefits of a chemical-free approach to waste treatment are already proving popular.

The AusIndustry website provides the information required to apply for the concession.

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