Bio-char the eco-link farms are missing

24 Aug, 2014 02:00 AM
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Most farmers haven't seen this technology

SEARCHING for a better way of farming, Euan Beamont has turned to bio-energy.

Originally a farmer at Mullewa, Mr Beamont thought there must be a better way to use resources than general farming practices.

"We are in such an unsustainable system of farming, we import fertilisers, chemicals and waste the resources we grow on our own farms," Mr Beamont said.

"I used to hate burning crop residue like straw, I began to think there must be a better way to utilise that resource, and that's the main driver for me."

So, Mr Beamont teamed up with Tom Vogan, to co-found Energy Farmers Australia.

Mr Vogan grew up on a farm near Lancelin and studied mechanical engineering at the University of WA – graduating with a Bachelor of Engineering.

Mr Beamont holds a degree in Agribusiness, a diploma in Farm Management and has more than 20 years' experience in agriculture.

He now leases out his Mullewa farm and works full-time on the business from Geraldton, while Mr Vogan works in the oil and gas industry to support his family and in the business part-time.

The pair have combined their engineering and agriculture skills over the past four years to build a mobile pyrolysis kiln.

The kiln processes organic material at temperatures up to 800-1000°C to produce heat which can be used on farm or converted to electricity.

The by-product of the process is biochar, a nutrient rich, high carbon material which can be used as a soil conditioner.

They have been refining their prototype over the past two years.

The duo think they have a good product many farmers could use to turn farming waste products into high value biochar and energy.

They have been working with farmers and farm groups across Australia that are interested in turning their waste into energy.

"Most farmers haven't seen this technology and there aren't many plants about," Mr Beamont said.

“There is already first generation technology, creating ethanol and biodiesel from seeds such as corn and canola.”

"But ours is second generation technology, getting energy from plant matter or biomass.

"We made ours mobile so we can demonstrate it, and have been processing chicken manure, wheat straw, lupin trash and woody wastes.

"We want to create a database of various feedstocks so we can get an understanding of the quality of the biochar we are producing and its potential uses.

"We are looking at commercialising the kiln, but we are really at the early stages."

The men are working with a Gingin poultry farmer, using their mobile kiln to test the farmer's poultry litter for energy output and biochar quality.

Mr Beamont said that bio-energy and biochar production is relatively unknown in WA farming systems.

Biochar has shown however to have beneficial traits when used in soils, such as holding in the nutrients and moisture.

It also provides habitat for soil organisms and can store carbon.

"We are taking small steps in understanding biochar, but it is important, as it is the missing link in the process and what will drive industry development," Mr Beamont said.

Energy Farmers was short listed as a semi-finalist in this year's Australian Technologies Competition.

It has sent in its business plans as part of the competition, and will find out in the next few months whether it has made it to the finals.

Mr Beamont said being involved in the competition has already opened doors.

If they are successful, they will be offered publicity and profiling opportunities and connections to potential customers, partners and investors in both Australia and Asia.

"We have access to mentors and advisers to help progress the business," Mr Beamont said.

"We are very excited about this opportunity and look forward to being involved in the program.

“Our long-term aim is for farmers to form a co-op and supply biomass to larger biomass projects and then ultimately biofuels projects.”

But for now the duo will continue to work with farmers, conduct more demonstrations, field days, go commercial and one day develop a larger plant.

"We want to start small," Mr Beamont said.

"It is not our focus on building a big plant at this stage, but that is where we are heading in the long term.

"We are still in the early stages and have been making modifications along the way.

"But I believe the benefits from integrating bio-energy into our farming systems could improve the farmer's bottom line both financially and environmentally."

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