WITH rising electricity prices, intensive agricultural industries are looking for newer and smarter technologies to deploy on farm. So, when an opportunity arose to undertake a Nuffield scholarship, 2016 scholar Ben Edser seized it.
Mr Edser is the business development manager of an investment company that manages a broiler poultry enterprise, which produces about 10 million broiler meat chickens each year in SA.
He oversees the value-adding and sustainability arm of the business and is responsible for the delivery of 700 kilowatts of solar power across the farm.
As part of the business’ sustainability initiatives, about 45,000 of poultry waste is processed and composted for use across a range of horticultural industries.
With support from AgriFutures Australia, Mr Edser undertook a Nuffield Scholarship to research whether poultry or other intensive livestock waste could be used as an alternative energy and revenue stream for farm businesses, and as a mechanism to reduce operational costs on farm.
“The way things have been done in the past will not be the way things are done in the future. The energy industry is ripe for disruption with limited competition. There is a real need for consistent policy, as well as significant investment in several energy generating and storage technologies,” he said.
“Intensive agricultural industries have experienced escalating electricity and gas costs across the past 10 years, and for broiler poultry businesses, looking at renewables is going to be a key focus in the future as businesses strive for efficiency and lower production costs.
“For most poultry businesses, about 75 per cent of their operating costs fall into four key areas - labour, electricity, gas and bedding. If producers can tackle one or more of those areas, they can certainly gain a competitive edge.
“My Nuffield scholarship unveiled the latest alternative energy solutions and their applicability and commercial viability for Australia’s broiler poultry industry.”
Throughout his two-year study, Mr Edser travelled to China, India, Europe, Qatar, the United Kingdom, Denmark and the United States. His final report, released this week, looks at key renewable energy technologies such as anaerobic digestion and solar in intensive poultry production.
“I was most interested in anaerobic digestion, which is a technology that can be used to recover energy from organic waste. Prior to my scholarship, I was led to believe that an AD plant where the majority of feedstock was chicken manure, would fail," he said.
“In contrast to this, and to my excitement, I discovered that feedstock with high chicken manure content was technically and operationally possible, and was successfully proven by two companies in Denmark and the United States.
“As a solution that can potentially generate up to three times the energy required to operate a traditional farm, and create an alternative income stream for producers by selling their excess power, this is really exciting."
Mr Edser said that large-scale investment in green energy technologies across the world had led to a substantial reduction in the cost of renewables, including in the solar photovoltaic (PV) space.
“Today, implementing a solar PV installation at a broiler poultry operation is a viable investment, but location and season will mean there are variations in the intensity and energy generated,” he said.
“Scaling up this technology creates a diversified business opportunity where a network connection is cost-effective, and the exported power can be sold to a third party for a reasonable price.
“On my trip to China I visited the largest solar panel producing factories in the world, including Trino Solar, Jinko Solar and Candania Solar. Their manufacturing process was productive, efficient and utilised robotics wherever possible, significantly driving down costs.
“I was able to see their solar program first-hand, which focuses on storage and the use of battery technology, providing a great opportunity to explore the use of storage integration in solar, which is a crucial component in the overall business case here in Australia.”
Mr Edser said his Nuffield journey had been incredibly rewarding as he is now implementing some of the research that he discovered on his global study program.
“I never expected to have the exposure, the access, the acceptance or holistic view that Nuffield provided me. I saw more, and learnt more, than I ever expected possible, and to be now applying these findings is the icing on the cake,” Ben said.
His report provides an in-depth analysis on the opportunities to convert waste into energy, and the feasibility of tailoring how renewables such as solar can be used in the broiler poultry industry. The report also includes global case studies to showcase best practice.
“In my opinion, these greener energies not only offset costs, they have far reaching benefits for producers, the supply chain, policymakers, the wider community and the environment,” he said.