A recirculated resource from waste to worth
Professor Andrew Rose says Southern Cross University's ReCirculator waste management project is a work for the common good. An example of circular economy principles in action, it also aligns with Professor Rose's philosophy around research and projects that combine local initiative with the potential for global reach.
"How we deal with waste is one of the most pressing environmental challenges facing the world,” said Professor Rose. “The circular economy is tackling the issue by flipping the conventional approach to waste. The idea is that there is no waste, just different materials with different purposes. By unlocking the value of a material from one phase of use to another, it enables a model for commercially sustainable and regenerative resource use and re-use."
The Northern Rivers Regional Circular Economy Accelerator – or ReCirculator – was launched in 2021 after a $2 million grant as part of the Federal Government’s inaugural Strategic University Reform Fund. It comprises four demonstration projects that are applying circular economy principles in manufacturing, agriculture and food production.
The Recirculator project is about bridging the Gap between technology development and adoption by industry.
So you already have a lot of technologies out there that industry could potentially use to turn their waste products into resources, it's really about developing pilot scale systems to demonstrate the scientific and economic benefits of that technology.
My name is Dirk Erler I'm a researcher at Southern Cross University and I'm working on waste management in the circular economy.
So this is a anaerobic digester. The same bacteria that are in that digester actually are in the guts of cows. It's the same process that generates methane. Whereas cows will burp out a lot of that methane, we're capturing it here and burning it and using that energy back in the plant.
I'm Craig Kelly and I work for Richmond Dairies as the Chief Financial Officer. Fundamentally this project is about recycling nutrients. We capture a lot of nutrients through our factory through the washing process and we treat them at the moment through our wastewater facility here, but there are still nutrients in that wastewater that we believe that we can extract and reuse beneficially back on the same farmlands that generate the milk that comes into this factory.
Those nutrients are what we're trying to recapture and if we can extract the nutrients then the water is of good enough quality to discharge to the local wetland and provide a continual source of water for all that natural wetland and all those environmental benefits that come from that.
I’m Simon Stahl, I'm the Chief Executive Officer of the Casino Food Co-Op. The project we're doing here is actually fixing up some organics that come into the water that we want to separate so that we can take them in two different streams and it's better for our wastewater processes at the end of the plant.
So we had a problem, we engaged the university and we've got this project that they tell me is going very well.
We need science and we need academics to help fix our problems and help come up with solutions, and so having Southern Cross working with us they've opened the door and said ‘Hey, what are some of the problems?’.
We're also working with the university in terms of the looking at the carbon balance across the Northern Rivers region, looking at a project of what are our emissions? Let's get a baseline for the region. And the university’s actually facilitating that. Then there's going to be some science required to look at some opportunities to lower our emissions across the region.
We're looking for anyone from government, industry and community organisations who'd like to come into ReCirculator journey with Southern Cross University.
What we want to do is to work with like-minded organisations to create a strong and sustainable circular economy for the Northern Rivers region.
Professor Rose – along with colleagues Professor Dirk Erler, Dr Shane McIntosh and technical manager Dr Ernest du Toit – is working with industry partners North East Waste, Lismore City Council, the Casino Food Co-op (formerly Northern Co-operative Meat Company) and Richmond Dairies.
"The project has the Northern Rivers at heart in its goals of applying circular economy principles to reduce waste, create employment and drive innovation," said Professor Rose. “It also represents Southern Cross University as a knowledge broker, with the expertise and resources to find solutions of benefit to the community, the region and beyond.
“For example, as demand for food resources increases, so does demand for the water, nutrients and energy needed for food production. Finding new ways that are affordable and reliable to recover these scarce resources from waste is critical to food security in Australia and the world over the coming decades."
Internationally regarded for his research into aquatic chemistry in natural and engineered systems, Professor Rose completed his Bachelor of Science (Mathematics), Honours (Environmental Engineering) and PhD at the University of NSW. He moved to Southern Cross University in 2009 to take up a five-year research-only position associated with an ARC QEII Fellowship. He is now a research and teaching academic in the University's Faculty of Science and Engineering.
Professor Rose is also Chair of the Academic Board, which affords him unique insight into the broader role, reputation and resources of the University.
"We are a small university, but our research is right up there,” he said. “We have great knowledge here and, importantly, we have great curiosity. We are also deeply connected with our region and that enables us to form close linkages and engage in research and projects that are relevant to our community."
ReCirculator offers clear evidence of that connection as it engages Northern Rivers businesses in a circular economy ecosystem using the latest technology, driving economic growth, reducing costs, lifting productivity, regenerating resources and creating employment. It also responds to a common challenge around waste among larger industries.
“While our industry partners all have different waste issues, they are unified by the same set of problems – namely that waste is costly, regulations on waste are strict, brand integrity is important, and people are demanding environmental credentials,” said Professor Rose.
Accordingly, in its initial phase the project aims to help partners to:
• understand the structure and potential for recovery of materials and energy from their waste;
• combine wastes from similar partners to realise synergies needed to achieve economic viability;
• identify, pilot and optimise technological solutions to facilitate their adoption and installation at a commercial scale.
“We are prioritising work that has practical application, but is also cutting edge," said Professor Rose. "As a university, we can be part of the pipeline that connects the development of an idea to its uptake by industry. Because we live here and work here, it galvanises a feeling of working together.”