• AJ Bush & Sons converts its wastewater into energy to fuel its operations.
    AJ Bush & Sons converts its wastewater into energy to fuel its operations.

For the last year and a half, announcements of innovative eco-efficient food and drink sector projects have flowed thick and fast. New refrigeration and air conditioning systems, efficient packaging processes, voltage regulators or biofuel and cogeneration projects are among the developments that are under way.

The spike in activity has of course been driven by the federal government’s $200 million Clean Technology Food and Foundries Investment Program, which was announced last year in February.

The grants dished out under the program have been designed to improve energy efficiency, reduce power bills, improve competitiveness and cut carbon pollution – as well provide some relief from the controversial carbon tax that companies are now slugged with on top of rising energy bills.

In the line-up of food industry recipients, meat processors, renderers and manufacturers of small goods have been well represented. Meat company Teys Australia, for instance, received more than $7 million to cut energy costs and reduce carbon emissions at three sites, and Primo Smallgoods received $1.1 million to upgrade lighting, air conditioning and water heating equipment at its four NSW meat processing sites.

The meat industry is a particularly energy-intensive industry, and because of this, one of its number, Queensland renderer of chicken and pork byproducts, AJ Bush & Sons, has been named as one of Australia’s top 500 polluters.

A high energy industry

David Kassulke, Queensland manager of AJ Bush & Sons’ rendering plant in Bromelton in southern Queensland, says the problem is mainly due to the scale and intensity of meat processing operations, rather than a lack of social responsibility on the part of the industry.

“It’s said half the carbon tax liability of the meat processing industry is due to emissions of the effluent treatment ponds,” he says.

According to Kassulke, meat processors in general also use a lot of water, and rendering – especially poultry rendering due to the hygiene requirements – has the highest effluent load. Kassulke says his plant renders around 800,000 kilograms of animal byproducts a day and its effluent load is equivalent to the sewage load of 500,000 people per day.

AJ Bush & Sons processes animal byproducts for Inghams, Baiada, Golden Cockerel and Swickers Kingaroy Bacon Factory. From this, it produces animal tallow for soap and oleochemicals and its customers are mostly finished product exporters.

Previously, the effluent produced from its rendering processes would sit in ponds awaiting anaerobic decomposition by bacteria, which in turn gave off carbon emissions, adding significantly to its monthly carbon tax liability which currently sits at $128,000. The company also receives a $120,000 electricity bill each month, and spends double that on coal.

Recovery of biogas

But all that is about to change, Kassulke says, thanks to a $6.2 million government grant awarded last December. The company has matched the government grant dollar-for-dollar to fund a $12 million project to cover its anaerobic ponds and capture the energy given off to fuel its operations.

It’s not the first time the company has covered its wastewater ponds. In 2005, the company trialled a single pond cover over one fifth of its effluent flow with good results.

“This has stood us in good stead as it means we have some years under our belt with this sort of project,” Kassulke says.

The company has also covered a second football field-sized pond, and the government grant will allow it cover a third anaerobic pond. It will also allow the company to capture the methane gas being emitted for use as a renewable fuel source to power a new biogas boiler for steam production.

The company commissioned Wiley to provide the design, engineering and building work on the project, which will include the pond cover and new energy-efficient boilers that will reduce the amount of black coal required during the steam raising process.

A change of heart

Kassulke admits he was once a vocal critic of the carbon tax. “We weren’t big fans,” he says. “We estimated that it was going to cost us about $2 million a year.”

With all of its ponds covered and a biogas fuel boiler installed, however, AJ Bush & Sons expects to halve current coal consumption, which accounts for 50 per cent of its carbon tax liability, and reduce the carbon emissions of its ponds.

“That’s why this is so sensational, and why it’s such a good project,” Kassulke says. “We’ll reduce our carbon footprint of 80,000 tonnes a year by almost 60,000 tonnes a year. That’s a 75 per cent reduction.

“The carbon tax is driving clean, lean manufacturing and we say we will use this to our advantage so we can become a low-cost operator. It’s our job to find those innovations that can help us keep our pricing down so that we can lead the field.” 

Packaging News

Woolworths has launched a recyclable paper meat tray across a selection of its Own Brand beef nationally in the first step in a plan to make all Woolworths’ Own Brand red meat trays recyclable.

The organisations behind the Australasian Recycling Label this week celebrated the label’s second anniversary and they are on the search for the 500th member.

Online packaging platform Packform has partnered with Footprint, a US-based material science engineering company that develops and manufactures plant-based materials for packaging.