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South East Water has partnered with RMIT University to deliver a new wastewater management project that repurposes biosolids headed for landfill into reusable products for farmers.

Developed by RMIT University and the first of its kind in Australia, the innovative technology uses a process called pyrolysis, whereby high temperatures destroy pathogens and microplastics in biosolids to create biochar – a carbon-rich form of charcoal for use by farmers and the wider agriculture industry to improve soil health.

Currently around 30 per cent of the world’s biosolids resource is stockpiled or sent to landfill, creating an environmental challenge.

The Biosolids to Biochar project is a circular approach to wastewater management, with the new technology having the potential to 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.

Steve McGhie MP, Member for Melton representing Acting Minister for Water Richard Wynne, said, “This collaboration will enable the water industry to find alternative markets for biosolids, reducing waste going to landfill and allowing 100 per cent of products to be reused or recycled.

“By creating a safe product with a steady supply stream, we’re also providing our farmers and the wider agricultural industry a product which is completely natural and can improve soil health and fertility. The 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 reusing and adding value to biosolids, we recover local resources, reduce landfill and create renewable energy to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.” 

South East Water’s 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,” Ms Olsen said.

“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 up to any size, making it a possible solution for both urban and regional water utilities.”

Associate Professor Kalpit Shah, Deputy Director (Academic) of the ARC Training Centre for Transformation of Australia’s Biosolids Resource, RMIT University, said that developing new ways to squeeze the full value from waste resources is critical in our transition to a circular economy, so we are thrilled this Australian-first technology has reached full trial stage.

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

Maree Lang, Managing Director Greater Western Water, said, “With a growing customer base and one of the largest service regions in Victoria, it’s so important that we find ways to add even more value to the work that we do. 

“This project is an excellent example of like-minded organisations working together with a shared commitment to sustainable solutions. 

“By reusing and adding value to biosolids, we recover local resources, reduce landfill and create renewable energy to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions,” Ms Lang said.

The next stage of the trial will involve scaling up the technology, with a dedicated unit in place at a Water Recycling Plant (WRP) over a longer period of time.

(L – R) 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.

Photo credit: Shawn Smits Photography

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