Commercialising banana waste for sustainable organics manufacturing will be challenging, but the project has a lot of potential in Queensland, says Peter Hannan, the CEO of Growcom.
In an opinion piece published in the North Queensland Register, Mr Hannan explained that banana waste could play a key role in the biofutures industry, which focuses on the development and manufacturing of products from sustainable organic and/or waste resources, as opposed to fossil fuels.
He highlighted the Queensland Government’s allocation of $20 million in funding over three years for its sustainable biofutures industry plan.
Mr Hannan noted that Growcom, which represents the Queensland horticulture industry, had been involved in a project to produce and harvest methane gas from banana waste, which was funded by the Sustainable Industries Division of the Queensland Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
“Growcom’s project demonstrated the feasibility of constructing a low-cost on-farm anaerobic digester to convert banana waste to biogas. It also assessed the most productive use of the biogas fuel on-farm to power machinery and return power to the grid,” he wrote.
Mr Hannan wrote that the aim of biofutures was to utilise ‘waste steams’ as feedstocks in the future to generate a range of sustainable chemicals, fuels, synthetic rubber, cosmetics and textiles.
“While the most common potential feedstocks mentioned are sugar cane bagasse, sorghum stover, algae and recycled waste/used lube oil, Growcom hopes that other feedstocks such as banana waste from the horticulture industry will be utilised.
“More than 30 000 tonnes of bananas are grown in Australia each year, mainly in northern Queensland. About 20 per cent of the banana crop, some 60,000 tonnes a year, is damaged or bruised during harvesting and transport to packing sheds and cannot be sold.
“Damaged bananas and banana bunch stalks can be converted into a gaseous fuel by anaerobic digestion, a process in which bacteria break down carbohydrates in the absence of air, producing a mixture of methane and carbon dioxide. In fact, all plant material can be processed in this way.”
Mr Hannan wrote that the challenge going forward was to find an investor to undertake industrial design, enabling the system to be commercialised and made available to growers.