The power of sewage

TODAY'S dried sewage sludge could be the south-west's lucrative energy source of tomorrow, if a Wannon Water and Glenelg Hopkins CMA trial project in Hamilton is successful.

Set to start next year, the project will investigate if biosolids, a byproduct of the sewage treatment process, and woody waste diverted from landfill can be converted into synthetic gas for renewable energy production.

Both organisations are members of the South West Victoria Biochar Action Group which, since it was established last year, has been investigating establishing a commercial biochar production facility in the region.

South West Victoria Biochar Action Group chairman Ian Bail said growing regional interest in biochar, with individuals and organisations exploring the possibilities of its production, led to the formation of the group.

"We want to help provide strategic direction to the region on the ethical production and use of biochar and the renewable energy products associated with its production," he said.

Biochar is a carbon-rich, solid type of charcoal produced from heating organic material including crop waste, woodchips and manure in a high-temperature, low-oxygen process called pyrolysis.

Energy in the form of heat and gas is released in the production process and can then be captured and used.

Biochar could also have a number of agricultural uses including improving soil quality and capturing and storing carbon dioxide, a process called carbon sequestration.

Members of the action group include individuals, Glenelg Hopkins Catchment Management Authority, Glenelg Shire, Portland Aluminium, Emfert Pty Ltd and Wannon Water.

Mr Bail said research into the uses and benefits of biochar were still in the early stages but the action group hoped to contribute to the research.

The action group has launched a new website, www.swvicbiochar.org.au, featuring information about the group's activities and research into technology and use of biochar.

"It includes frequently asked questions about the group, biochar and its related energy products, links to further information and a members' only area," Mr Bail said.

"We're looking at how we can do better with waste. The region has real potential to take waste and turn it into something useful."

With the first research-based stage of the trial project complete, specialised equipment will be transported from New South Wales to Hamilton to begin the production stage in the new year.

The $135,000 research project is funded by the Smart Water Fund.

Mr Bail said part of project would be to investigate the different ratios of char and energy that can be produced to determine which may be the most economic and commercially viable.

He said a field day would be held a few months into the project to give people the opportunity to look at the process for themselves and find out more.

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