Harnessing the power of organic waste

Published: 11 June 2021
Standing in front of Western Water’s biodome where the biogas is stored before being converted to electricity is: Steve McGhie, Member for Melton; Lily D’Ambrosio, Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change; Jeff Rigby, Managing Director of Western Water; and Claire Ferres Miles, CEO of Sustainability Victoria.

Western Water’s waste to energy facility in Melton is one key to unlocking the full potential of our waste:

  • reducing landfill
  • cutting greenhouse gas emissions
  • producing enough renewable energy to power itself.

Opened in March, each year the facility has capacity to treat up to 5000 kilolitres of liquid food waste such as cooking oils from local businesses and convert it into biogas.

The facility generates up to 1000 megawatt hours of renewable electricity that can be used as thermal energy, electrical energy and potentially transport fuel in the future. The facility will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 900 tonnes annually – the equivalent of taking 430 vehicles off the road each year.

The renewable energy produced at the facility, which includes solar panels, will generate enough electricity to fully power the Melton Recycled Water Plant on site, reducing reliance on the grid and cutting Western Water’s energy costs.

Retrofitting was the logical solution

Western Water considered a range of options in the planning stages. Retrofitting the existing Melton Recycled Water Plant facility was the most viable and aligned best with current operations.

Whilst there were some challenges in buying new equipment for a retrofit, Western Water deliberately went out for a design and construct tender. They needed to ensure the design was fit for purpose for the current plant and feasible for construction. The design used as much of the existing plant as possible, keeping costs down.

The upgrade was made possible with an $800,000 grant from our Waste to Energy Infrastructure Fund.

The Victorian Government supports waste to energy projects where they create clear net benefits and complement efforts to reduce and recycle waste. Waste to energy technologies can help Victoria achieve better waste management outcomes as we shift to a circular economy. This will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and create new jobs. However, our first priority is to reduce, reuse and recycle waste.

Read about how we’re supporting innovative bioenergy projects.

New energy, new skills

With a change in the way waste is brought into the plant, the treatment plant operators have had to adapt to new functions and learn new skills on the job.

This benefit was a welcome, positive outcome that the project team had not anticipated to be as impactful as it has.

“There has been an obvious shift in the way our plant operators see their role as part of the bigger picture, particularly the importance of processing waste that wouldn’t have had energy extracted from it,” Graham Holt said.

With expanding skill sets and increased role diversity, the team are learning different things about this type of waste. There’s even a potential to contribute what they discover to future waste streams such as solid waste.

Opportunities exist for other operators

Western Water consider other water authorities to be in a good position to do something similar, such as retrofitting existing facilities and considering solar and biogas as alternative energy sources.

The project had legs as Western Water were able to incorporate it into their current business operations, sharing assets and leveraging operators with transferable skill sets.

Alongside other benefits such as renewable energy production, the business case stacked up.

If you want to talk to someone at Wester Water about their experience, contact:

Luke Wilson, Acting Manager Policy and Liveability

(03) 9218-5505

0407 681 740

luke.wilson@westernwater.com.au

Contributing to Victoria’s targets

The facility is now contributing to the Recycling Victoria policy goal of halving the amount of organic material going to landfill by 2030. It will also assist Victoria in meeting its zero net carbon target by 2050.

With organic waste representing more than 30% of the total solid waste sent to landfill in Victoria, waste to energy facilities like this one are crucial to reducing the amount of organic waste that ends up in landfill.

The Victorian Government will continue to support early entrants into Victoria’s waste to energy market, including facilities that use organic waste to make bioenergy or provide precinct-scale energy. This will help expand Victoria’s developing waste to energy market.

All Victorians can contribute to our circular economy

We’re working with businesses, governments and industries and funding projects to build Victoria’s circular economy. Find out how we're contributing to the Recycling Victoria policy.

Our Circular Economy Business Innovation Centre recently released Path to Half: the first Australian perspective on the true cost of food waste. In 2020, Victoria wasted 2.4 million tonnes of food. By 2030, our goal is to reduce food waste to 1.2 million tonnes.

Further information