Biomix is investing heavily in innovative technologies and taking a bold approach to managing more than 100,000 tonnes of green organics per annum.
Measuring, monitoring and understanding soil properties is a nuanced undertaking, as biological, chemical and physical indicators all play a role in the success of what we put in the ground.
The ongoing business of providing high quality compost is another area conducive to the outcomes of soil health, and thus EPA guidelines and industry regulations govern a best-practice approach.
Soil nitrogen and appropriate levels of water improve soil longevity, in addition to providing valuable nutrients and organic carbon through high productivity farming practices.
It is within this burgeoning landscape that innovative organics recycling practices are bucking the trend.
Vanessa Lenihan has been at the coalface of industry progress, working with farms to identify ways to overcome the soil challenges they face. Her more than 15 years’ experience in the water industry, including sewerage quality management at South East Water, is laying the groundwork for innovation as she leads the composting business Biomix.
Vanessa has for the past few years performed consulting work for Enviromix – a parent company of Biomix. In 2016, Vanessa was asked to project manage the construction of Biomix’s Stanhope facility, managing the design, construction and approvals process over 14-months.
After successfully project managing the construction and commissioning of the new site, Vanessa in February this year joined the company as CEO – a natural transition given her past experiences. Biomix processes 100,000 tonnes per annum of garden and food organics, selling its compost to the broader amenity market, broadacre, viticulture and horticulture industries.
“Biomix is in the industry of organics resource recovery and so is the wastewater industry. Sewage is just a different form of organics so there’s actually a lot of synergies between the two and the lines between the two industries have become blurred,” Vanessa says.
Understanding the biological process of wastewater created synergies to administer this to the biological process of composting, including managing inputs and quality controls.
BREATHING LIFE INTO COMPOST
Biomix at the end of 2017 unveiled its premium compost facility at Stanhope. The company designed an EPA-approved in-vessel composting system, engineering its own vessels to better manage air flow and odour. Its compost is produced to AS4454-2012 specifications and regularly sent off for independent and accredited lab testing.
“The thing that is unique about Biomix is the composting vessels were designed by us. We worked with the mechanical engineering firm that designed them and we own the intellectual property around the vessels,” Vanessa says.
She says that one of the challenges Biomix had is that when it opened the vessels in late 2017, the business began to grow exponentially at a rate it had not anticipated. Likewise, low rainfall onsite and high evaporation presented a challenge to processing compost at the site.
To support its next transition, the company turned to integrated processing supplier FOCUS Enviro for support – a supplier of EDGE Innovate shredding, screening, separating, stacking and sizing equipment. From November last year through to January this year, Biomix acquired three unique new products from EDGE Innovate.
The EDGE MPS48 Picking Station, EDGE FTS Mulch Master (deep stacker) and EDGE TRT622 Trommel replaced a series of conventional machines traditionally used for composting.
“Because we grew so fast we had to manage parts of the business quite differently to what we’ve had previously,” Vanessa says.
“The EDGE Picking Station is really focused on removing contamination upfront and the Mulch Master has allowed us to process our windrows and get water to them in a way that is highly beneficial.”
The EDGE Picking Station was designed to improve safety for waste management sites by reducing the effects of dust, noise and climate conditions for workers. It helps eliminate contaminants such as organics, hard plastics, glass and other deleterious materials.
Vanessa says that Biomix has seen a significant reduction in water loss through windrows by using the Mulch Master, halving the number of times to turn a windrow.
“Every time you turn a windrow you lose at least 20 per cent moisture.
“The Mulch Master allows us to halve the number of turns during the process.”
She says that the Mulchmaster has increased volumes through deep stacking of compost, having previously used excavators and loading circles with a higher cost and slower processing time.
Vanessa says that the machine has allowed Biomix to increase the moisture content of its compost as the auger softens the materials and water jets allow the spread of moisture.
RE-THINKING THE PROCESS
The Mulch Master combines traditional flipping and rotation with constant material flow to overcome traditional challenges of compaction, contamination, material bridging and the risk of combustion.
Designed for low density, bulky materials such as mulch, compostand soils, the EDGE FTS Mulch Master boasts a large hopper capacity of 15 cubic metres.
A 25 per cent additional buffer capacity over the standard EDGE FTS units with a bespoke hopper design prevents material bridging. A variable high speed conveyor enables an even spread of material further regulated via a double screwed forward/reverse auger.
Biomix’s new EDGE trommel also allows it to produce a 14-millimetre-minus product. Vanessa saysthe screen has doubled throughput and comes with an on-board vacuum system attached that pulls out contaminants such as light plastics.
“We’re filling a front lift bin a day of light plastics and there’s no way we’d be able to specifically pick them out by hand – that’s how effective the vacuum system is.”
The TR622 Trommel screen is ideal for multiple applications such as topsoil, recycling, composting and construction and demolition waste. The TR622 comprises a 180-degree radial conveyor, a unique load sensing hydraulic drive system, eco-power saving functionality and a user-friendly HMI control panel to suit varying applications.
A hydraulic sliding feature allows for a speedy drum exchange and enables operators to easily lift out the existing drum to replace it with various drum types available.
Its 22-foot-long drum allows it to produce enhanced screening results and top quality fine materials such as compost, gravel, sand and topsoil easily.
Ronan McKenna, State Manager of FOCUS enviro, says the company last year trialled the machinery to ensure it met Biomix’s tonnage requirements.
He says that many of EDGE’s products have been tried and tested in other major markets such as North America.
“The Mulch Master is a brand new piece of technology that no-one else has used before, so once customers see it and get it round on their site it speaks for itself.
“The machines are fast becoming a popular replacement for traditional windrow turners for multiple reasons, including reduction in maturation pad areas and machinery capital outlay.”
Robbie McKernan, FOCUS enviro Director, says the company considers it an honour to be working with Biomix – a forward-thinking organisation open to a fresh approach to compost.
“There is a lot more evidence mounting to support new processes such as big stacking as opposed to traditional windrow methods,” he says.
“As a supplier, we value opportunities like this where businesses look at their processes as a whole and work out where savings can be achieved, as opposed to a ‘business as usual’ approach.”
Ronan says that FOCUS Enviro is continuing to see demand from organics recycling companies across Australia.
“We have been in a fortunate position to support the food and garden organics (FOGO) aspirations of customers across the country over the past two years. This has shaped our product knowledge to offer a purpose-built solution to meet processing challenges with safety and material quality front of mind.”
The new EDGE equipment is starting to pay dividends for Biomix, and the company is now looking at accelerating its output.
Biomix is currently working with farmers to incorporate compost into traditional fertiliser program. With funding from Sustainability Victoria, Biomix is working with SESL to determine a protocol that outlines an optimum blend of compost and fertilisers.
This will inform a three-year application program for farmers. The first round of trials on farms was completed earlier this year, with the second now underway. Vanessa says it demonstrated the need for a balanced approach to compost.
Biomix is also working with La Trobe University on the application of compost for pastures.
“We’re becoming a lot more scientific and precise in how we’re selling our compost. We’re moving away from just selling compost to incorporating it into the broader agribusiness sector,” Vanessa says.
“We see compost as being really important to the future of improving soil health and its structure and then being able to retain moisture in it and reducing the amount of watering farmers need to do.”
Vanessa says that moisture is so important for the composting process that Biomix designed its vessels to minimise water loss during processing.
Odour management and controlling the processing period to kill off any pathogens and weed seed is an important part of the Biomix process.
Vanessa says that one of the unique attributes Biomix has is its capability to process compostable packaging, films, coffee cups and pods.
“One of the biggest changes coming through the industry is the introduction of compostable materials into the waste streams and we’ve set ourselves up to be able to process that.”
As for the future, Vanessa predicts improving FOGO infrastructure, gaining a higher nitrogen compost, embracing compostable packaging and tackling contamination will be key to improving the uptake of compost.
“We have a step change in the Victorian Environment Protection Act coming in 2020.
“This will force us to focus on how our business is being managed and innovative further to embrace this change,” Vanessa says.
She says the changes to the Environment Protection Act will hopefully address some of the grey areas currently experienced in organic waste acceptance and management.
With a strong uptake of FOGO collections from councils, along with a changing regulatory environment, the need to embrace new technology and processes is more important than ever.