USQ Principal Scientist Professor Bernadette McCabe Photo: USQ Photography/David Martinelli
USQ Principal Scientist Professor Bernadette McCabe Photo: USQ Photography/David Martinelli

Turning poo into power: How USQ hopes to solve energy issues

A UNIQUELY Australian project looking at turning human and animal waste into electricity could secure access to energy well into the future.

Researchers at the University of Southern Queensland are investigating organic waste products that can be used to create valuable biofuels and bioproducts.

USQ principal scientist Professor Bernadette McCabe has spent her research career looking at using waste products as a renewable energy source.

"Thanks to biogas technology, Australia's relationship with organic waste - human and animal excreta, plant scraps and food-processing waste - is changing, turning waste into a commercial source of renewable energy," she said.

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"Organic waste, when broken down by bacteria, produces a methane-rich biogas that can be used to generate electricity and heat."

Prof McCabe and USQ are part of the Wastes to Profits project managed by Meat and Lifestock Australia, the Queensland University of Technology, the University of Queensland and other industry stakeholders.

Prof McCabe said the four-year project would provide an assessment of wastes, business models and pathways to adoption.

"When I talk about my work there is the phew factor, but people get over that qucikly as they see this is quite an elegant solution, particularly given waste is quite a hot topic at the moment," she said.

"There's been an evolving increase of awareness from primary producers and people involved in food processing sectors to better manage their waste. Farm production, feedlots, produce a significant amount of waste, that has a financial impact of between $100 to $200 million per annum to dispose of it."

Prof McCabe said the technology existed to turn that waste into an energy source, it was just a matter of working out the logistics.

"We don't currently have the ability to capture manure from dairy cows, feedlots," she said.

"There are challenges we need to overcome. We're looking at what business models would look like and the logistical pathways."

She said the push for the tech was also environmental.

"Once degraded, waste produces the gas methane which is 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide," she said.


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