THE LARGEST no-till group in Australia and a leading organic waste management business have formed a partnership that aims to provide farmers with new investment opportunities while protecting their traditional agricultural interests.
The joint venture, between the South Australian No-Till Farmers Association and the Jeffries Group, also has the potential to help secure future fertiliser stocks, with biochar set to be one of many commodities produced at the plant.
With the backing of the State Government, through a recently- announced $274,000 Renewables SA grant, Clean Carbon Capture will complete a feasibility study during the next 12-months.
It will determine whether a profitable pyrolysis plant to convert organic waste into renewable energy at Buckland Park, north of Adelaide, can be established.
Jeffries already operates a state-of-the-art composting facility at the site.
If the business is given the go-ahead, it will have the capacity to process up to 50,000 tonnes of additional green waste a year.
As well as biochar, the business will focus on the production of renewable energy, syngas, that can be used for direct heating or electricity, if run through a generator.
Clean Carbon Capture joint executive director Greg Butler said the grant followed three years of discussion.
"The main message is that we are aiming to provide a viable diversification opportunity for farmers to invest into renewable energy and carbon capture," he said.
"If climate variability becomes more severe, and farming risk increases, then investments into renewable energy and carbon capture should be performing very well.
"This will provide cashflow back to farms when it's needed most."
But at the same time Mr Butler, who is also the SANTFA research and development manager, was realistic about the difficulties facing the project, with no price for carbon in place and a "fair bit of slack" in the Renewable Energy Certificate scheme.
"At the moment, we have an emerging technology that can divert waste - that would otherwise go into landfill - into renewable energy generation and carbon sequestration," he said.
"The acquisition of that technology is something that we will have to look at in this feasibility study.
"Landfill fees and electricity prices are going up, and premiums for renewable energy will strengthen as we get closer to the 2020 target of 33 per cent renewable capacity in the grid, and carbon will get a price too."
Mr Butler said if the project was feasible SANTFA members would be offered the "first opportunity" to invest in the project.
Opportunities would also come from the business being set at the Jeffries' Buckland Park plant, with up to 24,000 houses scheduled to be built there under the State Government's 30-year Plan for Greater Adelaide.
"They're talking about building 24,000 houses in a 'sustainable suburb'," Mr Butler said.
"So if, for example, these houses have solar hot water, then they could use syngas from our plant as a back up in winter months.
"The amount of electricity we're expecting to be produced will be enough to power 2000 to 3000 homes."
Mr Butler said that for every tonne of biomass produced by the plant, 33pc would go to self-power the process, a third would be converted to energy, either as direct gas heat or electricity and the remainder would be converted to biochar.
* Full report in Stock Journal, February 24 issue, 2011.