Is there a functioning circular economy for organics in Australia? The answer depends on how you define the concept, writes University of Queensland Centre for Recycling of Organic Waste & Nutrients Director, Johannes Biala.
University of Queensland PhD candidate Danish Kazmi is developing a technique to transform glass waste into geotechnical columns and reduce the use of sand in the construction industry.
The geotechnical engineering student is investigating the use of crushed glass waste as an alternative to sand for ground improvement during construction works.
“Both sand and glass waste have a similar chemical composition, so we expect them to behave similarly when optimally used in geotechnical construction,” Mr Kazmi said.
“My research looks at the performance of glass waste within ground columns as an environmentally friendly alternative to sand columns, which are commonly used at the moment.”
Mr Kazmi said the columns are designed to strengthen the earth below a building and improve its load-bearing characteristics.
“Using glass waste in this way not only preserves precious sand resources and promotes closed-loop recycling, but could also reduce the carbon footprint of the construction industry by cutting down on the amount of sand that needed to be quarried,” Mr Kazmi said.
“I have always been passionate about helping to create circular economies.”
A new research program launched by The Fight Food Waste Cooperative Research Centre will investigate the transformation of food waste into valuable products.
Fight Food Waste Centre Chief Executive Officer Steve Lapidge said the Transform program will improve the Australian food industry’s competitiveness, productivity and sustainability.
“Dr Paul Luckman will lead a national program to transform food waste into valuable products – we have 46 industry partners and 10 research partners from across the country, with a total of $121 million being invested over 10 years,” Dr Lapidge said.
“We are working to deliver new sources of revenue and market growth for food companies, with less waste ending up in landfill and more food donated to feed hungry Australians.”
Lead researcher Paul Luckman said 42 per cent of food produced in Australia is wasted – at an annual cost of $20 billion.
“The Transform program aims to identify and prioritise valuable products from waste streams and find the technology gaps and process limitations in transforming that waste,” Dr Luckman said.
“We’re already looking at a wide range of projects, from turning food waste into supplements to fuelling sustainable wastewater treatment with food waste.”
Dr Luckman said the program is expected to save 87 gigalitres of water via recovery and reuse, reduce food waste by 30 million tonnes and save 44 million tonnes of greenhouse gas.
According to Dr Luckman the program will also create 5200 jobs in rural areas and save $600 million in waste produce and waste-handling costs.
The Fight Food Waste centre has been allocated funding through the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science’s CRC Program until 2028.
The program is hosted by The University of Queensland’s Dow Centre for Sustainable Engineering Innovation.
The Australian Organics Recycling Association brought together recycling suppliers, researchers and packaging associations all under the one roof to identify cost-effective and sustainable solutions to organics.
A new process turning waste glass into everyday products could save millions of tonnes of glass from landfill every year.
University of Queensland PhD candidate Rhys Pirie and Professor Damien Batstone developed a method to extract liquid silicate from waste glass.
The process can be used to make thousands of products ranging from concrete sealers to toothpaste.
The method creates little waste with almost all glass being turned into saleable products.
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Mr Pirie estimates the process will be more than 50 per cent cheaper than conventional silicate production methods.
“It requires less energy, raw materials and capital, and that’s before you consider the reduced social and economic costs,” he said.
Pirie began looking into the possibilities of glass recycling after working with Batstone who specialises in converting waste into high-value products.
“My PhD has highlighted how we need to make use of both the raw materials in waste streams and the energy embodied in them during manufacture,” Pirie said.
The pair believe the process will create positive, far-reaching and virtuous economic cycles.
UQ’s commercialisation company, UniQuest, has filed a patent covering the process and is now looking for commercial partners.
The research was co-funded by the Cotton Research and Development Council and Department of Agriculture and Water Resources.
The Australian Organics Recycling Association (AORA) is presenting an inaugural student award for the University of Queensland.
The annual AORA Student Research Awards will be managed by UQ’s Centre for Recycling of Organic Waste and Nutrients (CROWN).
The AORA Awards for Advancing Research, Development and Education in Organics Recycling will see participation from post graduate students enrolled at honours, masters or PhD level at an Australian or New Zealand university.
The awards aims to encourage students to undertake and excel in research designed to advance the nation’s knowledge and understanding of manufacturing high quality and value-added recycled organic products and their use in agricultural and horticultural production systems, including amenity horticulture.
Research considered for an award may apply to any stage of the organics recycling supply chains handling, including urban organic residues, food and fibre processing residues, biosolids or animal manures. It could also involve utilising generated recycled organic products as organic fertilisers, soil amendments, components of soil blends and growing media and for a wide range of land management purposes. Further information is provided in the awards guidelines and nomination form, both of which are available from the AORA Website and CROWN website.
Development of a mineral gel technology that will provide effective, low cost, rapid management of toxic red mud from alumina refineries has received a major financial boost.
Red mud is the waste product generated by the production of aluminum oxide, or alumina.
University of Queensland Sustainable Minerals Institute researcher Dr Tuan Nguyen has secured almost $500,000 to develop the gel technology that will transform the way refineries manage waste sustainably and economically.
Dr Nguyen said the gel had the potential to minimise pollution risks from red mud storage.
“New and cost-effective technologies are urgently required to assist the refinery industry to operate with much improved environmental outcomes,” he said.
“Safely storing and processing red mud is difficult, costly and time-consuming.
“But the gel chemically links mineral grains into stable and benign soil-like structures so it can sustain plant root systems, resulting in a successful rehabilitation outcome.
“This will help massively with seepage management and red mud rehabilitation.”
Dr Nguyen won a $180,000 Advance Queensland Industry Research Fellowship last week.
Rio Tinto and Queensland Alumina Limited have topped that up to almost $500,000, contributing cash and in-kind support.
“This funding is an outcome of strong collaboration between research and the environment teams of industry partners Rio Tinto and Queensland Alumina Limited, which produce $6 billion of alumina a year,” Dr Nguyen said.
“They accumulate millions of tons of red mud which is stored across 1500 hectares of dams in Central Queensland.”
Dr Nguyen recently joined the Sustainable Minerals Institute to work on research to develop cost-effective and sustainable technologies for rehabilitating red mud dams in Queensland and the Northern Territory.
Research group leader Associate Professor Longbin Huang said the technology was an important part of a new research theme of ecological engineering of mine wastes.
“Tuan’s appointment and the jump-start of this excellent funding opportunity are likely to lead to significant advancement of new technology to rehabilitate toxic red mud,” he said.
“This technology will help establish a red mud rehabilitation industry in Queensland, and make The University of Queensland the leading hub of red mud research and applications.”
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