The project transforming biosolids into biochar

Tuesday, 13 July, 2021

The project transforming biosolids into biochar

A new wastewater management strategy will recover biosolids headed for landfill and transform them into re-usable products for farmers.

The Biosolids to Biochar project is using technology developed by RMIT University — a process called pyrolysis, in which high temperatures destroy pathogens and microplastics in biosolids — to create biochar, a carbon-rich form of charcoal that farmers and the wider agriculture industry can use to improve soil health.

Currently around 30% of the world’s biosolids are stockpiled or sent to landfill. The project’s circular approach to wastewater management has the potential to address this issue and eliminate landfill waste across the water industry.

South East Water is helping to deliver the Biosolids to Biochar project in partnership with RMIT University, Intelligent Water Networks and Greater Western Water, with the technology currently in trial at the Melton Recycled Water Plant in Melbourne.

A comparison of biochar (left) and traditional biosolids (right).

Steve McGhie MP, Member for Melton representing Acting Minister for Water Richard Wynne, recently toured Greater Western Water’s Melton Recycled Water Plant for a first-hand demonstration of the new technology.

“This collaboration will enable the water industry to find alternative markets for biosolids, reducing waste going to landfill and allowing 100% of products to be re-used or recycled,” McGhie said.

“By creating a safe product with a steady supply stream, we’re also providing our farmers and the wider agriculture industry a product which is completely natural and can improve soil health and fertility. This project is incredibly exciting for both industries and I can’t wait to see the outcome of the trial.

“This project is an excellent example of like-minded organisations working together with a shared commitment to sustainable solutions. By re-using and adding value to biosolids, we recover local resources, reduce landfill and create renewable energy to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.”

South East Water Managing Director Lara Olsen said that supporting these kinds of innovative emerging technologies is an important part of South East Water’s commitment towards reduced emissions and a circular economy approach towards wastewater.

“The disposal of biosolids is a challenge across the water industry. South East Water is continually looking for ways we can work with others to create innovative solutions to protect our environment and to help our customers and community.

“This technology is important as it can be scaled to any size, making it a possible solution for both urban and regional water utilities,” she added.

The pyrolysis plant, currently being trialled at the Melton Recycled Water Plant in Melbourne.

Associate Professor Kalpit Shah, Deputy Director (Academic) of the ARC Training Centre for Transformation of Australia’s Biosolids Resource at RMIT University, said that developing new ways to squeeze the full value from waste resources is critical in our transition to a circular economy.

“At the heart of RMIT research [is] our strong partnerships with industry, and we hope this collaborative trial will enable us to accelerate the translation of our innovation into new home-grown technologies that advance sustainability and make a real impact in water and agriculture,” Professor Shah said.

Greater Western Water Managing Director Maree Lang and Intelligent Water Networks Program Director Dean Barnett also expressed their excitement and being involved in the project.

The next stage of the trial will involve scaling up the technology, with a dedicated unit in place at a water recycling plant over a longer period of time.

Image caption: A biochar demonstration underway. (Left to right) Maree Lang, Managing Director Greater Western Water; Dr Aravind Surapeneni, Senior Research and Planning Scientist South East Water; Steve McGhie MP, Member for Melton representing Acting Minister for Water Richard Wynne; Lara Olsen, Managing Director South East Water; Dean Barnett, Program Director, Intelligent Water Networks; Associate Professor Kalpit Shah, RMIT University.

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