Australia has lagged behind the rest of the world in waste processing and Southern Cross University (SCU) is bringing Australia to the table. They are investigating new uses for human excrement and food processing waste while solving disposal issues.
SCU has received funding for a two-year project focusing on applying techniques such as pyrolysis and anaerobic digestion to dairy-processing solids (the dairy industry produces millions of litres of liquid organic wastes annually) and human waste in the northern rivers.
Pyrolysis, is the controlled combustion of organic material to produce biochar and combustible gases, and anaerobic digestion produces combustible methane.
Though they aren’t new technologies ‘there has been little application of these techniques by local industry,’ said project leader Dr Dirk Erler.
Given animal manures have been used as fertilisers for centuries, this project will also explore if the processed human excrement and dairy by-product have similar potential.
‘The project involves testing to see if heat-treated wastes have any agronomic benefit, or if we can strip nutrients such as phosphates from the wastes,’ said Dr Terry Rose from Southern Cross Plant Science.
‘At the moment farmers in the region spend significant amounts of money on fertilisers, where they should be getting it cheaply from the wastes being generated in other local industries.’
Methane could produce onsite electricity while biochar, a soil amendment product, could be used locally.
‘The aim of the project is to apply these technologies to see if they work, and then investigate ways of maximising energy and nutrient recapture,’ said Dr Erler.
$500,000 funding has come from the federal government’s Cooperative Research Centre for Contamination Assessment and Remediation of the Environment while Richmond Valley Council, NORCO, and Richmond Dairies have collectively contributed $180,000 to the study.