Charcoal-powered growth for nursery

A PORTLAND nursery is investigating whether biochar could boost germination in some Australian plant species.

Supported employment centre Kyeema Seawinds is conducting a propagation trial along with Chatsworth-based Franklin Plant Native.

The project, supported by the Department of Sustainability and Environment and Greening Australia Victoria, will monitor germination responses and ongoing seedling root development to determine if biochar is a useful additive.

It will target species such as the brown stringybark that are typically difficult to germinate and propagate, and should be complete by Christmas.

Employees at Kyeema Seawinds, located in the Portland Aluminium precinct, have observed stronger native seed germination responses in the past year after adding biochar to growing mediums.

Biochar is a fine-grained charcoal produced in oxygen-depleted environments through second generation energy processes such as gasification and pyrolysis.

Greening Australia's Alcoa Landcare south-west seedbank manager Doug Phillips said the project was an exciting step forward.

"(It) serves to expand on continuing Australian research looking at the responses of agricultural crop species in biochar-amended soils," he said, adding that broader trial involving more species could start next year if results from present work were positive.

"Consequences from successful trial work with particular species would no doubt involve things like less seed being used in propagation trays and therefore less bench space allocated which would consequently lead to greater efficiencies and cost savings," Mr Phillips said.

"We are also looking at seedling development in terms of root biomass and growth to see if we can get stronger and more resilient plants with biochar, which again would produce a cost savings benefit for nurseries, as well as greater survival in the field."

Wannon Water last year received $135,000 from the Smart Water Fund to examine ways of gaining further value from biosolids, a by-product of the sewerage treatment process.

It formed a partnership with the Glenelg Hopkins Catchment Management Authority and Real Power Systems to investigate whether biosolids and woody waste diverted from landfill could be converted into synthetic gas for renewable energy production.

The project also set out to evaluate how low value waste materials such as sewerage biosolids and woody waste could be turned into a biochar product, which could potentially be used to sequester carbon and improve soil health.

Wannon Water managing director Grant Green said the project's first phase was encouraging and had led to a pilot production plant, to be installed at the Hamilton water reclamation plant over the next month.