Brisbane inventor turns food factory waste into free fuel
A Brisbane inventor has developed an ‘environmentally friendly’, modular system of turning food factory waste such as fruit, vegetables, bakery and fat into free energy that can be used for heating, electricity or as an engine fuel.
Ron Lakin has developed the BioBowser, a small scale, affordable and practical bio digester that produces methane gas. After the gas is extracted the leftover material can be used as a nutrient-rich fertiliser — although Mr Lakin said oils and fats should be mixed with other material.
Mr Lakin said the BioBowser, which he has been developing for eight years, not only results in energy cost savings, but it also has “significant environmental benefits” as methane is a highly destructive greenhouse gas that is rated as twenty seven times more destructive than CO2.
History of converting waste to methane
The principle of converting waste to methane has been known for centuries. On his journey in the 13th century Marco Polo commented that the Chinese were tapping gas from the sewers and using it for cooking. Large intensive farms in Australia like piggeries have long been harvesting methane to use as an energy source. But these require large one-off systems that can cost millions to build even though they pay back the capital outlay in energy savings in a few years.
Mr Laking said small scale biogas digesters are popular in China, India, Germany, Sweden and Norway, but so far not in Australia.
BioBowser makes bio-digestion available on smaller scale
With the BioBowser, Mr Lakin said methane bio-digesting was now accessible to smaller scale operations such as food factories.
“It’s like having your own bowser, but the fuel is free,” Mr Lakin said. “All we need to know is the quantity of waste available on a regular basis and the energy requirements of the business and in what form and we can tailor the BioBowser to suit the needs of the individual customer. If the amount of waste increases or more gas is needed we can put in more units as the system is modular,” he said.
“A food factory with twenty cubic metres of waste a week could produce methane of the equivalent heat value of sixty kilograms of LPG which would be more than sufficient for cooking, heating and lighting while a larger facility producing 5 tonne of waste a day could provide sufficient energy to power a generator to produce electricity for the entire plant,” Mr Lakin said.
Mr Lakin said a small unit could cost from $6,000 to $8,000, depending on requirements, such as whether the methane needs to be converted to electricity of motor fuel. A larger BioBowser could cost over $300,000, but Mr Lakin said the machine “could save that amount in energy costs in less than four years”.
“The biodegradable waste material could range from bakery, kitchen or restaurant waste or fruit and vegetables,” Mr Lakin said.