Australian-first tech: next step in waste transformation innovation

Australian-first tech: next step in waste transformation innovation

The next iteration of waste transformation innovation is underway with the water industry transforming biosolids headed for landfill into reusable products for farmers, thanks to RMIT-developed technology.

The new technology, the first of its kind in Australia, uses high temperatures to destroy pathogens and micro plastics in biosolids, creating high-value biochar.

Developed and patented by RMIT, the innovation allows farmers and the wider agriculture industry to reuse 100% of the product safely.

The technology will make biosolids management more environmentally sustainable and cost effective, as well as helping reduce carbon emissions for both the water and agriculture industries.

Farmers and the wider agriculture industry commonly use biosolids as fertiliser and soil amendment. Currently around 30% of the world’s biosolids resource is stockpiled or sent to landfill, creating an environmental challenge.

South East Water, Intelligent Water Networks (IWN) and Greater Western Water are now trialling the technology, with Member for Melton, Steve McGhie, recently inspecting the trial on site at the Melton Recycled Water Plant.

“This collaboration will enable the water industry to find alternative markets for biosolids, reducing waste going to landfill and allowing 100% of products to be reused or recycled,” McGhie said.

“By creating a safe product with a steady supply stream, we’re also providing our farmers and the wider agriculture industry a product which is completely natural and can improve soil health and fertility.

“This project is incredibly exciting for both industries and I can’t wait to see the outcome of the trial.”

Group of people in front of the pilot plant technology Left to right: Maree Lang (Managing Director, Greater Western Water), Steve McGhie (Member for Melton), Lara Olsen (Managing Director, South East Water), Dean Barnett (Program Director, Intelligent Water Networks), Associate Professor Kalpit Shah (RMIT). Photo: Shawn Smits Photography

The unique pyrolysis technology (PYROCO) transforms biosolids into biochar, a product which can be recycled and reused.

The next stage of the trial is to scale up the technology and have a unit in place at a water recycling plant over a longer period of time.

The development of the technology was supported through funding from RMIT’s Enabling Capability Platforms, with the project led by Associate Professor Kalpit Shah, Deputy Director (Academic) of the ARC Training Centre for Transformation of Australia’s Biosolids Resource at RMIT.

“Developing new ways to squeeze the full value from waste resources is critical in our transition to a circular economy, so we are thrilled this Australian-first technology has reached full trial stage,” Shah said. 

“At the heart of RMIT research are our strong partnerships with industry, and we hope this collaborative trial will enable us to accelerate the translation of our innovation into new homegrown technologies that advance sustainability and make a real impact in water and agriculture.”

Two hands holding biochar The high-value biochar produced through the patented RMIT technology. Photo: Shawn Smits Photography

Lara Olsen, Managing Director, South East Water, said the disposal of biosolids was a challenge across the water industry.

“South East Water is continually looking for ways we can work with others to create innovative solutions to important challenges such as protecting our environment,” Olsen said.

“This technology is really important as it can be scaled to any size, making it a possible solution for both urban and regional water utilities.”

The unique PYROCO technology uses a new type of hyper-efficient reactor developed at patented by RMIT.

The fluidised bed technology is based on slow pyrolysis - a process for splitting up organic materials into their chemical components by heating them in the absence of oxygen, so they do not combust.

The novel reactor radically optimises heat and mass transfer, while shrinking the technology to make it highly mobile. As well as being used in wastewater treatment, the reactor has potential applications in the biomass, plastics and coating industries.

Dean Barnett, Program Director, Intelligent Water Networks said: “At IWN, we are very excited to be part of this innovative technology trial – turning a waste product into a useable resource, which meets our objective of a circular economy for our members and the broader water industry.”

Maree Lang, Managing Director Greater Western Water, said the project was an excellent example of like-minded organisations working together with a shared commitment to sustainable solutions.

"By reusing and adding value to biosolids, we recover local resources, reduce landfill and create renewable energy to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions,” she said.

Associate Professor Kalpit Shah with the technology being trialled at the Melton Recycled Water Plant. Associate Professor Kalpit Shah with the technology being trialled at the Melton Recycled Water Plant.

Story: Gosia Kaszubska


  • Research
  • Sustainability
  • Engineering
  • Science and technology
  • Industry
  • Environment

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RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business - Artwork 'Luwaytini' by Mark Cleaver, Palawa.