Projects

The projects outlined here illustrate the range of issues addressed by Qubator in applying the principles of industrial ecology.


Spent Pot Liner

Spent pot liner (SPL) is a solid, toxic waste arising from smelting aluminium.

During the mid 1990s, open dump sites like the one at Kurri Kurri shown above were banned and so created a significant problem of disposal for the smelters. SPL had to be stored indefinitely in sheds, specially built for the purpose to prevent leaching, until a permanent means of disposal became available.

Qubator’s research on the technical issues suggested that the problem might be analogous to storing radioactive waste. The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) had developed technology known as Synroc which overcame the problem of leaching. The possibility of using the principle of Synroc to deal with SPL was canvassed with ANSTO and as a result, Qubator set up a research syndicate to develop technology that would convert SPL into a product for which a market existed. Qubator raised over $100,000 for the work from Alcan Australia, Alcoa Australia and Tomago Aluminium, all of whom participated in the project. Qubator patented the process and produced samples of fill material for Gabion baskets as a precursor to establishing a demonstration plant and commercial development.

 


Scrap Gelatine

Waste in the form of a web (shown here) is typically 43% bovine gelatine; 23% glycol and 34% de-ionised water.

The two largest producers of this type of scrap are in Sydney and Melbourne, respectively.

Each sends approximately 15 tonnes a week of scrap to landfill. Although bovine gelatine is deficient in lysine, a particularly important amino acid for building muscle mass, the scrap does have nutritional value as an ingredient in pig food rations.

Negotiations were therefore undertaken to supply the scrap from both sources to a large commercial piggery in western Victoria.

 


Bakery Waste

Periodically, pig growers in Australia experience significant pressure on carcass prices caused by un-restricted imports of meat for processing, particularly from subsidised farmers, such as in Denmark.

One response to this situation is to reduce the grower’s cost of stock food.

During a period of particularly deep price discounting, Qubator was asked to find waste materials in the Melbourne region that would be suitable for stock food rations.

This project is different from most in that demand for waste is the driver, not so much a problem of disposal for the producer. At the time, Simplot in Melbourne manufactured baked products, including some containing meat. Most of their waste was suitable for pig rations but some had come into contact with raw meat and was therefore prohibited by the regulations for use as stock food without special treatment.

Part of Qubator’s work was to devise a suitable process for sterilising the contaminated material and negotiate approval for the process by the Chief Veterinary Officer of Victoria.

 


Scrap Perlite


Manufacturing expanded perlite produces bag-house dust (AP-10), which in 2005 was being sent to landfill at the rate of approximately 25 tonnes a week.

Orica owned the plant at the time and were keen to reduce their costs of disposal. Perlite has a myriad uses in industry, generally as a filler, as a filter aid in the production of beverages and as a growing medium in horticulture. Given these applications, the task of finding a use for AP-10 seemed relatively straightforward.

Eighteen months into the project, a dozen different opportunities had been investigated but none was successful.  There was always some detail which prevented AP-10 from being used.

By mid 2011, one possibility remained open pending commercial development of a new process to manufacture plate glass; the search continues for other uses.

 


Production scrap - disposable cloths

George Norman Pty. Ltd. in Sydney manufactured disposable cloths and wipes from rayon fibre (re-constituted cellulose).

The process generated waste that was characterised by a relatively low bulk density, approximately 200 kg/m3, a high water absorbency of approximately 200% by weight and an oil absorbency of approximately 80% by weight.

In 1998 Qubator was asked by Kimberly Clark Australia, the owners of George Norman P/L, to find a use for this waste which arose at the rate of approximately 5 tonnes a week and was being dumped in landfill. However, work on the project was delayed by Kimberly Clark until 2001 when they sold George Norman to Multix Ltd. Research over the following 18 months yielded more than 10 possibilities but as with perlite, nothing seemed to work.

By the end of 2002 the project had fallen dormant again as Multix Ltd. were in the throes of selling the business to Merino Pty. Ltd. In 2004 Qubator was again approached about finding a use for the waste. This attempt was more successful: imported cloth was being used as damp packaging for live lobsters exported from Tasmania.  The waste could be ‘needle punched’ to make 10 mm pads, which proved to be an effective substitute for the imported material and cost about a quarter of the price.

 


Scrap Plastic

Australian Paper Mills (APM) at Bomaderry NSW used to recover fibre from discarded ‘Tetra Pac’ and similar containers for liquid food.

They also processed production scrap of the same material, shown above.  

The fibre is lined with plastic and often with thin film aluminium as well.

The lining is separated from the fibre during their process and was dumped at the rate of 5 tonnes a day, dry weight.

The company used a coal fired furnace for process heat, which burned an average of 20 tonnes a day of graded washed coal trucked from a mine approximately 250 km away.

The plastic fraction of the scrap was pure hydrocarbon with a calorific value comparable to fuel oil or natural gas and burns cleanly without noxious off gas.

 It was eminently suitable for fuel but was too light to enter the fire-box efficiently.

Qubator’s solution to this problem was to briquette the plastic with scrap coal (see image below), which was available as waste from a coal assay office approximately 60 kilometres from the paper mill.

An alternative solution was also developed in which the aluminium was separated from the plastic which could then be re-cycled. 

 


DISA Dust


Qubator was asked to find a use for bag-house dust produced from casting steel parts in a DISA plant, owned at the time by BTR Engineering Ltd. in Sydney.  

The dust is made up mainly of silica and carbon from the casting sand and various forms of iron from the castings. It was being dumped in landfill at the rate of about 20 tonnes per week. Significantly, it has a higher bulk density than would have been expected for such material.  

Within six weeks the entire output was being shipped to Dynamic Lifter, a the time a privately owned company, which specialised in collecting chicken litter from egg producers and converting it into pelletised fertiliser.

Their interest in the dust was as filler to increase the bulk density of exported product. 

 


Scrap Therapeutic confectionery

Nestle generates between 30 and 50 tonnes a month of scrap therapeutic confectionery at their factory in Blacktown, NSW.

The scrap must be managed according to the requirements of Therapeutic Drugs Administration, which stipulated disposal at controlled landfill, if it is to be dumped. The cost of controlled landfill is significantly more than general landfill.

 As an alternative to landfill, Qubator made arrangements, which lasted for more than 15 years, to supply the scrap for ethanol production, for generating methane and as a component of stock food rations.

 


Dunder

Mauri Yeast Australia produces approximately 100 tonnes a day of dunder, an effluent rich in agricultural minerals, from their factory in Toowoomba, Queensland.

The waste is characterised by a relatively high chemical oxygen demand and was originally dumped into the local creek. When this practice became unacceptable from an environmental perspective, dunder was dumped into the local sewer system but the cost of disposal in this way became prohibitive.

The University of Queensland carried out extensive trials of anaerobic digestion to improve the characteristics of dunder for agricultural purposes but without success.

Untreated dunder contained more nutrients than the digested material.

In light of these results, Qubator established a group of landowners who have used dunder as a soil conditioner on their properties continuously since 1998.

 


Scrap Fiber Cement

CSR produce approximately 100 tonnes per week of scrap fiber cement at their plant in Wetherill Park, NSW.

The material was being removed from site and dumped in landfill by Watts Waste Pty Ltd., under a long-term contract. Without obligation under the contract, Watts Waste approached Qubator with a proposal to find a market for the material and thereby reduce CSR’s disposal costs.

From a theoretical perspective, the most satisfactory solution was to reuse the scrap on site, as a raw material. Managers at CSR were unwilling to operate the equipment required to process the scrap for reuse so other possible uses were investigated, such as for hard-core, for road base and in agriculture.

Qubator arranged for the material to be supplied to Blue Circle Southern Cement at Berry in NSW, as a raw material for manufacturing cement clinker.

 


Reusing Industrial Waste Water

During the drought of 1994-95, giga-liters of town water were being dumped to sewer each day by industry that had used it only once for such purposes as cleaning, cooling, boiler blow down, transporting product around a process and just shear wastage. The problem was to find a way of conserving water through reuse.

Every factory site in Sydney that is connected to one of the sewer systems is connected directly by a conduit (pipe or tunnel) to every other site served by the same system.

Qubator’s proposal was that lay-flat hoses passed through the sewage conduits could connect any two or more factories so that wastewater from one site could be pumped to another site and used accordingly. Sydney Water concurred with this idea and sponsored the project.

Four pairs of sites were identified as suitable for trials. The management of each factory undertook to participate in the project and a full report was submitted to the Water Board, together with an application for support to continue the project.