Shoalhaven Council’s Australia-first Bioelektra technology

Shoalhaven Council’s Australia-first Bioelektra technology

Shoalhaven City Council’s West Nowra landfill facility will use an Australian-first technology to preserve its landfill and achieve a 90 per cent red bin recovery rate.

Along the coastal plains, about 200 kilometres south from Sydney, lies the City of Shoalhaven, a local government area bordered by mountains and 100 sublime beaches.

Home to almost 100,000 residents, the total waste collected at the kerbside per capita had been growing steadily.

Over the past two decades, resource recovery investment had been increasing, but there had still been no solution to the council’s landfill problem. Concerns of dwindling airspace had escalated and a long-term strategy was required.

While the council had invested heavily in forward landfill disposal capacity and planning for missed waste, Shoalhaven had been evaluating its options since the early 2000s. In 2006, an investigation into reducing waste disposal demand to maximise Shoalhaven’s Nowra Landfill facility showed limiting airspace and increasing waste was an issue.

A number of trials were conducted in 2008 on domestic waste processing, including green waste, in addition to a cost benefit analysis into a resource recovery park. Over these years, an economic analysis of domestic waste processing costs and an alternative waste treatment facility was conducted. By 2013, council resolved to call for expressions of interest for establishing a resource recovery park and alternative waste treatment facility.

The calls for tender arose as Shoalhaven City Council’s West Nowra landfill facility was tipped to reach capacity by 2031 or earlier, prompting an industry-wide consultation phase.

TENDERING FOR TECH

David Hojem, Waste Services Manager at Shoalhaven City Council, says council was looking for a novel approach to solve its landfill problem.

“We went out to tender in a fairly open process that was available to experts in the industry to find a solution to recover our waste,” David says.

David says expressions of interest occurred around 2014, taking some years to find the right technology and site and go through the relevant approvals, including environmental impact statements.

Shoalhaven discovered Bioelektra Group’s mechanical heat treatment process – an innovative technology used in Poland that sterilises and dries the mixed waste streambefore sorting it into individual fraction and then recycling. The solution would allow for the recovery of mixed waste from its red bin that was going to landfill.

The most common system for treating municipal solid waste using mechanical heat treatment is an autoclave, according to a UK Government document on the process. The 2013 document explain that it is common for sanitising clinical wastes, prior to being sent to landfill, but its application in municipal solid waste is a relatively recent innovation.

As the technology would become an Australian-first, David says the council had to do a lot of background research.

“We travelled to the only currently operating plant in Poland, spoke to their customers, downstream recyclers and regulators and did thorough research on it,” he says.

NET ENVIRONMENTAL BENEFITS

Shoalhaven in particular was looking to avoid having more vehicles on the road that could have occurred by introducing a third bin, in addition to diverting 90 per cent of its red bin waste from landfill and safeguarding its bins from contamination.

The additional cost to provide each household with a green bin would have been about $150 a year and by taking a different approach, the council would avoid having to increase its rates. As a result of reducing its waste to landfill, the council’s waste levy bill to the NSW Government is projected to reduce by nearly $7 million ($4 million for domestic waste) per year.

“We are really swimming against the flow as the NSW EPA are actively promoting the food and garden organics (FOGO) bin,” he says.

“Our philosophy is that more bins require more rules for residents to follow, and we know many people don’t follow those rules so we needed to make it simple.”

In January this year, Shoalhaven City Council announced it was entering into a long-term contract with Bioelektra Australia after the company had successfully won the tender. The new resource recovery facility will be constructed on council-owned land adjacent to the current West Nowra Landfill site. Works will commence in 2019 and the facility is expected to be fully operational by late 2021.

The facility will be funded and built by Bioelektra Australia. The 20-year contract allows for 130,000 tonnes per year of processing capacity, but the initial design capacity is 100,000. Bioelektra will apply to the EPA for an environmental protection license to operate the facility.

While council’s projected landfill will be extended from 12 years to more than 50, Shoalhaven boasts that 100 per cent of everything householders place in the red bin that can be recycled, will be. The facility will also have capacity to process material from neighbouring councils and reduce waste across the region. It will capture all recyclables, including green waste and convert them into biomass that can be used as an additive for brick manufacture and cement rendering.

THE TESTING PHASE

Fred Itaoui, Managing Director of Bioelektra Group, says he aims for the technology to act as an adjunct to good source separation. Following a more than 30-year career in facilities management, Fred’s passion had been to find a solution to landfill. In 2006, Fred embarked on a research and development phase and came across a Polish engineer that had built the mechanical heat treatment technology.

Bioelektra Group ran a pilot program in Poland for its heat treatment facility from 2010-12, located in the western Poland village of Róžanki. The success of the pilot led to the plant’s commercialisation in 2012 and it has been fully operational since.

“My whole passion is to reduce our reliance on landfill and the amount of single-use plastics we use. I feel this will provide opportunities for people to think about what they’re buying from the supermarket and make the right decision,” he says.

Bioelektra entered the Australian market in 2017 as part of a global strategy mirrored in Chile, Argentina, India, Iran and Turkey. It followed numerous testing and commercialisation of the technology over a five-year period.

“There were a lot of skeptics that said mechanical heat treatment had been tried in the UK and US and failed miserably, so we wanted to ensure we covered those aspects and answered those questions that did come up,” Fred says.

He adds that other autoclaves had been larger and therefore it was harder to dry the material.

“Since then, Shoalhaven Council have applied their own forensic analysis of the technology. It was pleasing they did that, as it showed what was scientifically proven, was also proven operationally.”

He says that as the technology makes waste inert, whatever material is sent to landfill will have no pathogen. Over the long term, this means environmental risks such as leachate, landfill gas, odour and litter associated with putrescible waste will be significantly reduced. Fred says this makes it not only easy to compact, but makes the land more usable to rehabilitate into parks and gardens post-closure.

“Sending the material to a facility like ours further enhances the recyclability of the product and extracts resources. Even if people make a mistake in the yellow bin, that waste has an alternative rather than sending 20 to 30 per cent of it to landfill because of wrongful contamination.”

He says that Bioelektra wants to solve the global challenge of landfill shortages.

HOW DOES IT WORK?

The process involves several stages. Yellow bin recyclables will continue to go to a materials recovery facility, with the residuals sent to the mechanical heat treatment facility and landfilled if required. Red bin materials will be sent directly to the site.

The process of treating mixed municipal solid waste begins after the material is loaded into a reception hall. From there, it is reviewed to ensure there is no construction waste, metals or hazardous materials the system is unable to process. It then gets placed into a shredder and autoclave, known as the RotoSTERIL BEG7000, which sterilises the material. The material remains in the autoclave for up to three hours at 150 degrees and five bars of pressure, which evaporates the waste by subjecting it to steam under pressure, and significantly reduces its volume.

The moist material then goes through an air dryer conveyor belt and the sanitised waste is separated. After the natural sterilisation process is complete, waste is unloaded to a buffer zone. Through a lifting feeder integrated with a magnetic separator, waste is transported to a set of mechanical pneumatic screens equipped with an eddy current which isolates any metal. Organics, metals, glass, plastics and paper are processed on site and recycled into various end products. Refuse-derived fuel, produced from combustible wastes such as non-recyclable plastics and paper, is isolated by near-infrared sensors. Glass is meanwhile separated and broken down in the form of a cullet.

Fred says the process complements recyclers as the dry waste allows for sorting lines to be able to separate the material more accurately.

Among the cost savings offered to councils are not paying waste levies, in addition to lower operational costs through an automated process and improved safety by not having to employ picking staff.

“My aspiration is really to have more sites around regional areas, as well as metropolitan. We are looking at two to three plants around NSW, as well as in Queensland and a similar plant in Victoria,” he says.

For David, the main goal for Shoalhaven City Council is waste avoidance. Having worked at council for the past 15 years, he has worked on numerous strategies to boost resource recovery, including the Waste Reduction Management Strategy. With all the right conditions at play, David says the only real challenge now is getting support from state agencies.

“Technology all comes with some hype and you have to cut through it to see what will really work. But having looked at the facility, I think it really will,” he says.

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