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A peek inside Yarra Valley Water’s waste-to-energy plant

With sustainability a key focus for many utilities and businesses, Yarra Valley Water has revamped its core business, creating three new revenue streams while also servicing the local community.

Delegates at this year’s AWA/IWA Young Water Professionals Conference will be given the opportunity to take a site tour of the Yarra Valley Water waste-to-energy plant to see sustainable and economically-viable solutions to waste first hand.

Yarra Valley Water waste-to-energy Services Manager Damien Bassett said the waste-to-energy plant looks at ways to reduce costs associated with core business, such as recycled water.

“We were looking at responding to climate change and Melbourne’s growing population,” he said.

“We began to look at the business case for incorporating co-digestion into what we were doing with our core business. As a water utility, we were already managing quite a large proportion of waste streams via our sewage treatment plants, and we realised there were grounds for us to look at using anaerobic digestion for food waste.

“We would have organic food waste coming into our facility, which would generate revenue for disposal. We had the electricity that would be generated by the anaerobic digestion process. We also had a product from the process, which is digestate.

“That electricity is used to power the waste-to-energy facility, the neighbouring Aurora treatment facility, and we still have approximately 75% of what we generate being sent back to the grid.”

Bassett said the benefits of turning to food waste as a source for anaerobic digestion are wide reaching, ultimately with the utility’s customers benefiting from cost reduction.

“The food waste we are processing isn't going to landfill; this is a plus from an environmental standpoint. There is also benefit to our customers in reducing our cost to operate,” he said.

And while the facility has been in operation since 2017, Bassett said Yarra Valley Water is still learning about the process and different opportunities available.

We have a facility that we are still learning about, but in the past four months we have been able to generate close to our maximum capacity. This has allowed us to generate strong revenues, which we can then utilise to keeping our overall business costs down.

Bassett said taking the lead on sustainable waste management has broadened the utility’s expertise, a change which is an exciting opportunity for Young Water Professionals considering career paths.

“It’s up to us to do something. From an environmental standpoint, this is another way that we are assisting. We are also touching into waste management, which is not usually an area of core business for a water utility, but we see ourselves as an integral part of that now,” he said.

“We are looking forward to hosting the Young Water Professionals as part of the conference program. It allows us to showcase the varying opportunities that exist in 2018 and beyond. We are expanding and this is reflected in opportunities for young people.”

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