The Australian eco-site – which boasts a wide variety of innovations – is an ingenious example of sustainable land use. Already home to one of the world’s largest green energy producing bioreactors, Veolia’s Woodlawn eco-precinct continues to find novel ways to promote sustainability. An approach that delivers benefits for the environment, community neighbors and business development.
If someone were to design a theme park dedicated to showcasing several innovative sustainability technologies side-by-side in the same location, it very well might look like Australia’s Woodlawn eco-precinct. Begun as a waste reduction and recovery project 12 years ago, the site, located near the town of Goulburn, New South Wales (NSW), 250 kilometers south of Sydney, has morphed into an ambitious network of interconnected green projects that serve the Sydney metropolitan area and nearby communities.
The recipient of numerous awards for sustainability and innovation, the Veolia operated site continues to add new projects and infrastructure, including constructing a mechanical and biological treatment (MBT) plant to manage organic waste.
"It’s an exciting time to be part of the ongoing development at the eco-precinct, where there are always new ideas!”- Veolia NSW General Manager, Ben Sullivan
A site dedicated to waste recovery
The eco-precinct is built on the site of an open-cut zinc, copper and lead mine that was closed following the previous owner’s financial collapse in the late 1990s. Its main elements include:
- a bioreactor facility that recovers methane from over 500,000 metric tons of putrescible waste material annually and produces enough green electricity to supply over 2,500 households;
- aquaculture and horticulture operations that use residual heat from waste for fish farming, providing 2,500 metric tons of barramundi fish per year for local markets;
- a working farm that supports 18,000 sheep, applying nutrient and grazing rotation to improve meat and wool productivity while reducing impacts on the soil;
- a 50-MW wind farm (operated by Infigen Energy) that harnesses the natural energy with 23 wind turbines in an area renowned for significant year-round wind generation.
The site’s new projects further illustrate how its component parts come together to advance business, environmental and community interests. The new MBT plant, designed to separate organics from mixed household waste, will reduce the amount of waste going to landfill, helping the local municipal and industrial sectors meet targets for resource recovery.
Some of the residual material from the MBT facility will go to the bioreactor, ultimately increasing green energy production to supply the equivalent of 7,000 homes. Together, the combined energy production from the bioreactor at full capacity and the wind farm is expected to generate almost 300,000 MWh per year, providing power for the equivalent of approximately 37,500 homes.
"the wind farm is expected to generate almost 300,000 MWh per year, providing power for the equivalent of approximately 37,500 homes.
At the same time, the organic portion of the waste is being converted into compost suitable for use in rehabilitating the former mine site, a major priority for Veolia. The feasibility of developing an organic tomato greenhouse that could utilize excess CO2 and heat from the unit is currently being studied. Steel separated from the waste will also be recycled. A new transfer terminal is being built near Sydney to handle the increased rail shipments of waste, reducing CO2 emissions by eliminating more than 30,000 truck trips per year. All of this investment and expansion also provides further employment and business opportunities within the local and extended community.
Beyond the facility’s direct economic impact, Veolia’s employees working at Woodlawn are actively engaged in consulting with and supporting neighboring communities. Through the Veolia Mulwaree Trust, the Group contributes one dollar for each metric ton of waste received from Sydney, with funds going to local community projects. Since the trust’s creation in 2005, more than AUS$8 million has been distributed to worthy causes. Woodlawn also hosts recreational events such as 10K races on the site, as well as welcoming visitors to view the operations.
“We have one of the largest and deepest bioreactors in the world and our guests are surprised by the bioreactor’s physical size,”says Veolia NSW General Manager, Ben Sullivan. “From the viewing platform, it measures 800 meters wide and 150 meters deep. Most visitors are generally amazed at the diversity of our operations and talk about how impressed they are to see green energy being produced, fish grown for the local community and our plans for converting waste into organic compost to remediate the old mine site. It’s an exciting time to be part of the ongoing development at the eco-precinct, where there are always new ideas!”