Phototheque VEOLIA - Alexis Duclos

Sydney converts food waste into green electricity

Posted on 05 July 2016.

In the suburbs of the Australian metropolis, the Earthpower biogas plant transforms liquid and solid organic waste into green electricity and fertilizer pellets.

The unit takes all sorts of organic waste and produces enough green electricity to supply nearly 3,600 homes.

Food waste is a global issue regularly highlighted by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. An FAO study from 2011 estimated that one third of the food produced for human consumption is either lost or wasted.

Australia decided to take action to resolve this major problem by setting the goal of reducing its food waste by 50% by 2030. Meanwhile, high-performance collection and organic waste recycling initiatives are multiplying.

As is happening in Camellia in the western suburbs of Sydney. The result of a joint venture signed in 2007 between Veolia Australia & New Zealand and Transpacific Industries Group Ltd – renamed Cleanaway Waste Management Limited in February 2016 – the Earthpower center processes some 45,000 tons of organic waste per year.

The first regional facility for processing food waste into energy, this unit is in many respects exemplary. It collects widely from homes, businesses (for example Sydney Markets and Woolworths Limited) and industry; it accepts a wide variety of putrescible liquid and solid waste, including wet and classified waste from industry which often has limited options for recycling.

Meat, fruit, vegetables, fish, processed products, sweets, pastries, bread, dairy products, processed products, liquid and even fats can be treated in this biomass center – which operates on the principle of anaerobic digestion.

The natural process that breaks down organic matter without oxygen converts the organic material into biogas and residues, which are then turned into fertilizers. The biogas produces combined electricity and heat in a cogeneration plant. Heat is not lost - it is used to dry the fertilizer pellets.

The two 4600 m3 anaerobic digesters each provide green electricity for the equivalent of 3,600 homes along with a rich organic fertilizer for use in agriculture and horticulture. One thousand tons of fertilizer are produced every year on the 12,600 square meter site. As for electricity generation, it is 6,800 MWh / year and is sold to the local grid.

The advantages of anaerobic digestion are manifold compared to composting or landfill: smaller volume of waste, fewer greenhouse gas emissions and renewable energy produced. In fact, this Sydney suburb site stands as the first regional anti-waste center. A major challenge for Australia - it no longer wants to be the bad boy of food waste.