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Trials are underway in regional Victoria to turn waste from potato farms into fertiliser and electricity in an attempt to be environmentally sustainable and lower farmers’ costs.
The Mollongghip-based research and development project between Ballarat and Daylesford is aimed at transforming agricultural waste, known as biomass, into hydrogen.

Joe Finnegan of start-up power company MADE Energy is part of the feasibility study and said it would create a circular economy for agricultural communities to be able to produce these utilities from waste on a local scale.

In terms of biomass and turning it to hydrogen, what we’re trying to do in our study, it really hasn’t been done before in Australia. So we’re probably leading the curve,’ he said.

Approximately 4.9 million tonnes of fertiliser are used annually by Australian farmers, and hydrogen is a significant building block in ammonia construction.

“We also import 52 per cent of that fertiliser, so this is a pretty golden opportunity to produce stuff locally from waste.”

Mr Finnegan said that only twenty farmers collectively use around 1.4 million liters of diesel for irrigation per year in the spud-growing area around Mollongghip.

Eventually, hydrogen may substitute that, since renewable fuel is capable of being stored and transported, water is the only by-product of combustion, making it an attractive carbon mitigation product.

“Our goal is to off-set some of those costs. We’re confident in the future we’ll get there. Our aim is to make it cheaper and better for the environment,” he said.

In fact, money is a key factor, so we’re going to make it as cost-effective and inexpensive as possible.

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“Communities will be able to change the way they use fertiliser and fuel.”
Sustainable Resources Investment

The research project, Mr Finnegan said, is the only one of its kind in Victorian agriculture and is funded by a grant from the Commonwealth Business Research and Innovation Initiative.

“The idea of the grant is to give small companies who’ve got a great idea a bit of support and help to try and make an impactful change,” he said.

While the project started tiny, with only four individuals studying its feasibility over fourteen weeks, Mr. Finnegan said there were major plans to implement sustainable technology.

“We’re starting locally, trying to engage with broadacre farmers in the area,” he said.

“The goal, the vision, is actually to roll this out across Australia.”

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