Victoria’s Smart Water Fund has enlisted the methane-producing potential of algae and Flinders University expertise in a move to reduce the carbon emissions and the power bills of the State’s water sector through increased renewable energy use.
The Smart Water Fund is funding the project, with additional in-kind support from Melbourne Water and Flinders.
The project will be based at Melbourne Water’s Western Treatment Plant, where the company already collects methane generated by sewage solids in a covered wastewater pond, feeding the gas to an on-site AGL power station to power the site’s operations.
The project’s leader, Professor Howard Fallowfield of the University’s School of the Environment, said Melbourne Water is now looking to create biomass energy by utilising the nutrients in the wastewater to grow algae, which in turn will be used to generate methane for power.
He said the project’s first phase will be to evaluate how much algae can be produced over an annual cycle, and thus provide accurate estimates of gas yields.
Professor Fallowfield said current assessments of biomass energy potential rely heavily on theoretical data “because no-one’s had a system on the ground to provide real data.”
“Through this project we will be able to provide actual data to plug into CSIRO life-cycle assessment models and determine what the real energy balance is and the economics of the whole process,” he said.
In future phases, Professor Fallowfield said the trials would move on from algal production to look at processes to thicken the biomass to a consistency appropriate for anaerobic digestion, and for management of an anaerobic digester.
“This is a field-scale, not a laboratory bench-scale, trial, and the water utilities will be looking at this as a pilot project to see whether they want to get on board and do it as well,” he said.
Christine Cussen, Chief Executive of the Smart Water Fund, said that projects like this one could help provide an excellent platform for transformational innovation in the water industry that could add great value to the sector, with applications across Australia.