Goulburn meat processor adds biogas facility to operations

An expansive covered pond at Southern Meats gives little signal of what lies beneath.

But the 90 metre by 60m wide lagoon, delving 4.5m, is a heaving mass in a new technology that’s cutting greenhouse emissions, using all wastewater, and powering the South Goulburn abattoir.

The facility officially opened its $5.75 million biogas plant, financed and constructed by ReNu Energy, on Wednesday. It’s been about four years in the making, firstly by Quantum Power, and then by its purchaser, ReNu. The plant has been up and running since February.

Southern Meats general manager Craig Newton said the relationship was ideal.

“We had the wastewater and they had the technology,” he said of the company.

“Our energy costs were rising and this was a way of absorbing them. Our effluent dam was also near the end of its life and this plant gave us the benefits of odour control.”

The process is described as a whole cycle, whereby any leftover wastewater is irrigated onto the abattoir’s land. The anaerobic lagoon holds 22 million litres.

Leading a tour on Wednesday, ReNu’s Bioenergy manager Manfred Beyrer said the plant fired up every morning at 6.30 and ran until 10pm.

Wastewater from abattoir operations is pumped into the pond where it sits as a “living culture” and maintained at a constant 37 degree temperature and pH level, beneath its PVC membrane cover. Every six months, this natural process is supplemented with a ‘vitamin pill’ of micro-nutrients to maintain the balance.

The plant captures biogas, which is part methane, and is pumped into two large ‘scrubbers,’ or cleaners which remove hydrogen sulphide, not only reducing odour but making the gas less corrosive.

The biogas is supplemented with some natural gas to keep engines running at ideal operating condition.

From here it is channeled into two 800kWh capacity generators on site. The 1.6MW capacity, translating to 3800MW of electricity annually, powered most of the abattoir, Mr Beyrer said, with only a small amount sold into the grid. The abattoir uses about 20,000 KWh of electricity every day.

Southern Meats purchases the power under a 20-year agreement. The aim is to also use the electricity to power infrastructure associated with the biogas plant.

“Little is wasted in the abattoir’s processing operation,” Mr Beyrer told The Post.

“We use all of the one million litres of wastewater. About 150 cubic metres of methane is created by breaking down the biomass. This methane previously went into the air.

“It makes a lot of economic and environmental sense for Southern Meats to use this technology. It is lowering their electricity bills.” 

ReNu Energy’s business development manager for biomass, Kunal Kumar said the generators supplied electricity at peak and shoulder times. Power could also be stored for later use.

Mr Newton said two months in, he was still waiting to see the impact on electricity costs but anticipated a significant reduction.

ReNu CEO Craig Ricato said the company had applied the technology to about 14 other similar operations.

“This is certainly where we want to be with the technology and we’re now working on its integration (at Southern Meats) so it powers all the (associated) utilities, like pumps. The best outcome for us long-term is to cover the anaerobic lagoon with solar panels,” he said.

The plant was also financed with a federal $2.1 million Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) grant. 

Hume MP Angus Taylor described it as a win-win.

“It  addresses the environmental challenge of disposing abattoir waste while generating affordable energy for storing meat, which we know is an energy intensive business,” he said.

“This is fantastic technology being taken up by a major employer in a regional centre and it’s an example of the type of innovation the government encourages and supports.”