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From farming waste to bioplastics

9 July 2021, at 12:30am

A multidisciplinary team from Murdoch University is working to convert agricultural wastewater into high-value bioplastics, preventing the pollution of local waterways in the process.

Intensive production in pig, dairy and poultry farms generates significant amounts of effluent that contain high concentrations of pollutants, posing one of the biggest environmental challenges facing producers today.

The wastewater produced in cleaning and washdown facilities on these farms cannot be directly released to the environment. It can be composted or diluted to create a fertilizer - a process that is cost negative overall and can result in excessive nutrient build-up in treated pastures.

An interdisciplinary team of researchers from Murdoch University has come up with a novel solution to the problem. And, it’s led to them being announced as one of eight finalists in the Bridge Hub 2020 Water Challenge Research Stream.

Dr Damian Laird (Chemistry & Physics), Associate Professor Navid Moheimani (Environmental & Conservation Sciences) and Professor Parisa Bahri (Energy & Engineering) are developing a unique approach to converting waste from piggeries and dairies into bioplastics.

“The microalgae convert the potentially polluting nitrogen and phosphorus into biomass that can be transformed into biodegradable bioplastics. The process effectively cleans water, sequesters carbon and reduces pollution.

“Ideally, the process transforms the waste disposal process for these industries from a cost centre to making a profit. And the wider environment also wins as the nutrients contained in the waste get recycled, rather than potentially ending up in local waterways and estuaries.”

The 2020 Water Challenge seeks to uncover the best and brightest research and identify innovative ideas and startups that positively impact water sustainability within our agrisystem.

A research winner from Australia and New Zealand will each receive a cash prize of $25,000. Investment services and ideas incubator Blue River Group will invest up to $100,000 into the commercial outcome of the prize winning research from each country.

Finalists take part in a series of workshops on how to hone innovations to attract commercialization partners. The workshops are facilitated by experienced technical innovation teams at Callaghan Innovations (New Zealand) and the Canberra Innovation Network (Australia).

“We’re really interested in finding solutions for primary producers that provide business and environmental benefit their overall operations and that fit into the emerging circular economy”, Dr. Laird said.

“We are really pleased that this idea has resonated with the Water Challenge team, which is really focused on novel solutions to better utilize water resources across all agriculture.”