The Weekly Advertiser Horsham
Biogas future for oats manufacturer
A bordertown food manufacturer with a major operation at Dimboola is set to convert oat husks into electricity to offset almost all of its monthly energy costs.
Cereal oat supplier Blue Lake Milling has completed construction of its $8.1-million Bordertown biogas plant, which will generate enough electricity to power both the plant and nearby homes.
The company will use the 24,000plus tonnes of by-product oat husks it produces each year to create a mix of methane and carbon dioxide through ‘anaerobic digestion’. The gas will then fuel an onsite generator to power the mill.
The company has previously sold the husks as stock feed, used it as packing material or thrown it away.
The company’s commercial projects manager Jeremy Neale said two-thirds of the power generated would go to the mill, and the remaining third into the electricity grid.
“It’ll go a fair way to eliminating our electricity bill,” he said.
Mr Neale said there were no plans to pursue a similar concept at the firm’s manufacturing plant at Dimboola, which has an oat-rolling instead of de-husking function.
But he said there would be overall flow-on benefits.
As a 24-hour, five-day-a-week operation, the Bordertown mill’s monthly electricity bill is about $80,000.
Mr Neale said issues with power reliability first sparked the need for an alternate source more than a decade ago.
“Every time we’ve looked at doing an expansion, power was a limiting factor,” he said.
“So the way around that is to obviously generate your own.”
Mr Neale said the biogas plant would allow manufacturing to continue in the event of a power outage.
“Being at the end of the power line we have a lot of brownouts,” he said.
“So being able to stay powered up and continue operations is a big factor for us – it mitigates against all those risks.”
Blue Lake Milling has completed the project, which started with planning in 2017, with help from South Australian government study and implementation program grants.
One of five
Energy firm Biogass Renewables designed and will operate and maintain the facility.
The concept of generating gas from anaerobic digestion is common in Europe, but the Bordertown plant is just one of five in Australia.
To gain a deeper understanding of how to operate a biogas plant, Mr Neale spent two weeks at a workshop in Germany.
He said Blue Lake Milling’s ambitious plan attracted scepticism.
“They all told us we were crazy,” Neale said.
“There’s existing plants with oat husks being fed in but none with it as a straight diet. So it was obviously a bit of a risk.”
Mr Neale said Blue Lake Milling was also drawn to the idea of a biogas plant due to its value as a renewable and clean energy source.
“As well as being a more safe and reliable method of generating power, improving our environmental footprint and sustainability are things the company is really delving into,” he said.
The branch is in the process of transitioning from gas-powered forklifts to electric models and is exploring further opportunities to reduce its waste impact.
“We’ll be looking at ways to redirect our landfill to other methods of disposing of waste, so more recycling and anything we can do in that space,” Mr Neale said.
CBH, the parent company of Blue Lake Milling, will also use the new project to gauge the potential of implementing similar systems at other grain operations throughout the country.
However, Mr Neale said pioneering such a large-scale project had come with its share of complications.
“The EPA approvals took more than a year in themselves,” he said.
“There was just no legislative process in place for something like this.”
Blue Lake Milling chief executive Kevin Boyle said while the new plant would lead to some business savings, improvements to sustainability were what got the project over the line.
“The return on investment in financial terms actually remains very low,” he said.
“For businesses like ours if it was only a financial decision we would likely not commit to it.
“This is a representation of the values of our whole organisation, this is real leadership in industry and planning for a better future.”