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Published: 2010-11-09 00:00:00

A project involving Environment Waikato, Hamilton City Council, Matamata Piako District Council, Landcare Research, Lakeland Steel and Inghams Enterprises, is being granted nearly $160,000 over two years to explore turning organic waste into useful nutrients, thereby benefiting the regional economy and the environment.

Environment Minister Nick Smith has announced that the Government’s Waste Minimisation Fund will grant the funding to allow the councils to explore using a process known as pyrolysis to deal with problem organic waste.

The Hamilton City and Matamata Piako councils and Inghams Enterprises are contributing co-funding to the project. Environment Waikato is coordinating and managing the project on behalf of the partnership. Landcare Research is providing expert scientific advice to the project while Lakeland Steel will supply and operate the equipment. The project will support capability development by training two engineer students coordinated by The University of Waikato and the WaikatoLink HotHouse.

The pyrolysis project offers significant potential benefits for the region. The Waikato produces more than 1.16 million tonnes of organic waste a year, with some 135,000 tonnes currently sent to landfills. However, it is predicted that alternate means of getting rid of organic waste in the Waikato will decrease in future meaning more will go to landfill if new alternatives aren’t found. As methane from decomposing organic waste can contribute to climate change, any extra emissions from landfills under such a scenario would be taxed by the Government’s Emissions Trading Scheme.

However, pyrolysis – a well understood process - involves thermo-chemical decomposition of organic materials under pressure at high temperatures without using oxygen. This process can produce carbon-rich biochar, which can potentially be used for improving soil condition and crop productivity, and also syngas which can be used as an energy source.

The project being funded is to provide central and local Government, industry and business with a case study on using pyrolysis to convert waste into useful products.

The vision of the project is that by 2017 pyrolysis could be a viable way to divert some 32,000 tonnes of commercial organic waste a year from Waikato landfills and convert it into useful products.

Currently, the small-scale pyrolysis technology that will be used during the trial is based in Rotorua. Part of the project will involve assessing the scale of operation that would be needed in the Waikato to achieve the 32,000 tonnes target, and what environmental impacts this would have.