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Waste not, want not: Springborg's plan to turn sewage into hydrogen

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Former LNP leader Lawrence Springborg is pushing the Goondiwindi council into the clean energy age with a plan to turn the town’s wastewater into hydrogen.

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Springborg, who is vying for the presidency of the LNP, is now mayor of Goondiwindi and believes the scheme could be the first of its kind in Australia, however Redlands has shown interest in developing a similar scheme.

As well as producing a clean energy product that could be sold off to local businesses it would also help offset a forecast $20 million “infrastructure cliff”’ that was ahead of the council to upgrade its wastewater infrastructure.

The scheme would use electrolysis to break down the wastewater into oxygen and hydrogen using a solar array.

Springborg hopes the fact that Goondiwindi sits in one of the State Government’s planned renewable energy zones may work in its favour when it applies for grants.

He said there were a host of proposed solar farms in the district that are currently stranded because they can’t get access to the grid and they could also potentially benefit.

Springborg said the council would use the resulting oxygen from the process to improve the efficiency of its wastewater treatment and the hydrogen would be sold on to local businesses including cotton gins, feedlots and manufacturing companies.

Springborg said one of the issues now was managing expectations because there was far more demand for the hydrogen than the council was originally planning to produce.

About 1350 tonnes of hydrogen a year could be created for local businesses as a cheaper, greener energy alternative. The oxygen produced would be used to “turbo charge” sewage treatment and ozone could also be produced as a steriliser. 

He said the worst case scenario for council was that it spent money on upgrading its wastewater plant and the best case was that it saved as much as $15 million.

“The technology we’ll be using isn’t necessarily new, but as far as we know it certainly hasn’t been used in this combination and towards this outcome before,” Springborg said. 

The scheme is largely unfunded but the council has earmarked an initial $50,000 for design and a further $3.5 million on upgrading its wastewater plant and hopes to find private sector and grant funding.

It has also brought in the Hydrogen Collective (H2C) and the Queensland University of Technology for help. H2C would manage the production and sale of the project’s hydrogen and has already consulted with several large industrial businesses in Goondiwindi who have shown interest in using hydrogen.

Springborg said hydrogen has been identified as the fuel of the future.

“We’re very excited to be one of the first councils in the country to be involved with this process and to look at innovative ways of turning what was a waste product into a renewable energy source for local industry,’’ he said.

“While most of the proposed national hydrogen production will be focused on export, ours will be one of the first projects of its kind that is specifically for the local economy.’’ 

The project’s hydrogen production would also have the added benefit of creating oxygen as a by-product which could be used in its wastewater treatment process, which would improve efficiency and provide a cleaner operation at a lower cost as well as improving the quality of the effluent output, which means the treated wastewater can then be re-used in more ways. 

Springborg said the process would help to future-proof the wastewater treatment plant in Goondiwindi.

“Council had already identified several major upgrades required at the Goondiwindi wastewater treatment plant over the next 10 years as part of its asset management plan,” he said. 

“Using methods recommended in the plan, those requirements would potentially cost more than $20 million to realise.

“Instead, by partnering with private enterprise in this innovative project, we will be able to achieve similar outcomes at a greatly reduced cost to ratepayers.

” I can’t emphasise enough what a benefit and opportunity this is for Goondiwindi region residents.”

If the project meets currently expected timelines, Goondiwindi could be producing hydrogen as early as December next year with commercial sales to follow soon after. 

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