Pioneering technology in the City of Logan is continuing to turn heads in the water and sustainability industries almost two years on from its widely celebrated launch. First switched on in April 2022, Logan City Council’s Australian-first biosolids gasification facility is revolutionising human waste disposal while reducing harmful carbon emissions and saving Council millions of dollars per year.

The gasifier, designed and delivered by the Council’s water business, Logan Water, in partnership with Downer, WSP and Stantec, thermally treats biosolids (human waste) to produce reusable gas, and an environmentally-friendly, charcoal-like product called ‘biochar’. The innovation has been a game-changer for the growing South East Queensland city, which previously – like many local government areas expensively disposed of its biosolids by treating, then trucking the waste thousands of kilometres for use on non-edible crops.

The energy-efficient facility, in daily operation at the Loganholme Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP), was co-funded by Logan City Council and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA). It was named Australia’s premier Infrastructure Project Innovation (Metro) at Ozwater’23, the largest annual water industry event in the southern hemisphere.

It also scooped two accolades at the Australian Water Association’s 2023 Queensland Water Awards, and won bronze in Project Innovation at the International Water Association’s World Water Congress in Copenhagen. Logan Water staff welcomed more than 400 national and international guests for 29 in-depth tours of the facility in the 2022-2023 financial year.

City of Logan Mayor, Darren Power, said it was no surprise to see the ground breaking wastewater project making waves across Australia, and the world. “Even in the early stages of this project, we knew we were on to something special with the potential to totally transform our wastewater operations,” Mayor Power said.

“This innovative technology is saving our city millions of dollars while it lowers our emissions and safeguards our natural environment for future generations. “Most importantly, it’s not something we are keeping to ourselves. “We are thrilled to see interest in our facility continuing to grow, as governments and businesses across Australia, and elsewhere, explore its applications for their societies.”

Why it works

Logan Water’s gasification facility underpins a circular economy model designed to capture, treat and reuse human waste in an efficient and low-impact way. The process, powered by a large solar-array at the Loganholme WWTP, is based on the recycling of renewable heat energy.

First, treated biosolids from the WWTP are pumped into centrifuges for dewatering. The resulting mass is belt-dried with heat (biogas) captured from the gasifiers, to further dehydrate the product. Dried biosolids are then fed to the gasifiers – tall, vertical cylinders with hearths – and heated to produce the biogas, and the biochar. Considered a highly effective ‘soil conditioner’, biochar is a rich, pelletised material with a wide range of potential applications, particularly in agriculture.

Proof of performance studies conducted by Logan Water have confirmed the destruction of POPs (nano-plastics) in the product, which prevents releasing them back into local food ecosystems. Of additional significance is the potential for biochar produced at the facility to dramatically improve carbon content in agricultural soil, increasing productivity and crop growth.

The impressive product is part of an Australian Research Centre study analysing the applications of what once was ‘waste’ but is now a marketable material with the potential to help Australia meet its greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets. Each year, Australia produces about 500,000 dry tonnes of biosolid waste. Its processing via gasification, or other similar thermal technologies, could result in thousands of tonnes of carbon enhancing Australian soils annually.

As a potent ameliorant for the bioremediation of degraded soil and a low-grade form of activated carbon, biochar is also of interest to the land care and construction industries, as a potential additive to building materials. Logan Water’s long-term vision is the expansion of its circular economy model on a larger scale, as the production and sale of biochar creates new opportunities to reuse biosolid waste, and new revenue within the carbon market.

A clean, green future

Meanwhile, biosolids gasification is also boosting the environmental credentials of Logan City Council, now certified carbon neutral across its operations by the Federal Government’s Climate Active initiative. During its 20-year lifespan, the gasification facility will play its part in keeping the Council’s climate impact minimal as it is expected to reduce GHG emissions from the Loganholme WWTP by more than 129,000 tonnes.

Logan City Council Infrastructure Chair, Councillor Teresa Lane, said initiatives such as biosolids gasification were increasingly important for the rapidly expanding city, which is expected to be home to more than 600,000 people by 2046. “As more people choose to live in the City of Logan, the more important it will be to continue to minimise our community’s impact on the environment,” Cr Lane said.

“Reducing emissions in the future will require new strategies as more people rely on local resources. “Council’s expert staff are already investigating new methods to reduce our climate impact in coming years.” Coincidentally, Council’s gasification technology will play an important role in its next emission reduction initiative – the repurposing of food and organic waste from local households.

A new Logan City Council study, run in partnership with ARENA and the University of Queensland, is investigating the feasibility of converting food and green organic (FOGO) waste into biomethane gas, biochar and pelletised fertiliser, via the gasification facility.

Logan Water will lead the trial, which if successful, could reduce carbon emissions caused by methane emissions at Council’s landfill sites and provide another important source of bioenergy.

Longer term, the results could support Council’s application to the Queensland Government’s recently announced GROW FOGO funding program. The program will support local governments in the rollout of new, lime-green lid ‘organics’ bins and kitchen food waste caddies across South East Queensland, as interest and capability in the processing of FOGO waste grows.

Results from Logan City Council’s FOGO feasibility study will be available in 2024. The study is the first of its kind funded under ARENA’s Industrial Energy Transformation Studies program (IETS), which supports pioneering energy projects nationwide.

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