ON A 350-hectare property on the outskirts of Casino, Northern Co-operative Meat Company chief executive Simon Stahl is with university researchers checking on plants.
These are no ordinary plants. The tea tree, bamboo and giant reeds are being fed with nutrient-rich waste water from the meatworks abattoir.
"We have nutrients in our waste and we weren't using it,” Mr Stahl said."Waste water has a lot of organic matter from meat processing including nitrogen and phosphorous.”
When Mr Stahl approached Southern Cross University plant science research department about finding a way to use the nutrient-laden waste water, the project at Savilles Rd was set up.
SCU associate professor Terry Rose said the crops would be harvested this week and water samples sent to university laboratories for testing.
The plants they chose for the project had to be salt-tolerant as some of the water from the meatworks tannery was salty.
"My interest is in the fate of nutrients so they are not an environmental burden,” Prof Rose said.
The blood and bone in the meatworks waste would be a danger to waterways because of the concentration of nitrogen, so instead the company pumps the water to the property and sees what plants benefit the most.
The success of the project is being measured but its viability for the long term is what NCMC's systems and compliance manager Trevor Moore is interested in.
"Biofuel and bioenergy are the way of the future,” Mr Moore said.
Called phytoremediation, which is the process of using plants to clean up polluted soil and water, is energy efficient and could provide outcomes that are environmental and profitable for NCMC.
"We could use these crops for fuel for our boiler or cut it back and use it for feed,” Mr Stahl said. "We could produce biochar that would then improve soil conditions.”
The 12-month project of identifying crops for sustainable bio-remediation of wastewater from a bovine service abattoir was funded by the Meat and Livestock Australia Ltd and NCMC at the cost of $47,362.