Hemp could be burned as Casino meat co-op turns green

THE Casino meatworks is set to launch an eco-friendly energy project which would make the founders of permaculture proud.

In a move to put smiles on the faces of the recycling gods, the facility plans to use its nutrient rich wastewater stream to irrigate fields seeded with high biomass crops - including industrial hemp - as fuel for its brand new biofuel boiler.

"The new boiler we've had designed we can burn almost any sort of organic waste with the appropriate legal approvals," Northern Cooperative Meat Company chief executive Simon Stahl explained.

The project is a joint trial in conjunction with Southern Cross University, peak body Meat and Livestock Australia, and the Australian Meat Processor Corporation.

It's hoped the first trial plot will be in the ground by the end of this month.

Experts from Southern Cross University GeoScience such as agronomist Dr Terry Rose are using their research experience to select the best crops to feed the boiler, with hemp high on the list.

Alternatively, the meatworks may opt to grow high-yield crops it could potentially take to market, such as bamboo.

Other plant options on the table include a reed species, a heavy sorghum, and tea tree.

The crops have been specially selected for their concentrated biomass, which equates to around 30-40 tonnes per hectare.

It will double the output of the fodder crops currently grown on the irrigated fields.

"What it means is you're producing a lot more out of the same country, and obviously it's a better use of the nutrient," Mr Stahl said.

Mr Stahl admitted he didn't know much about hemp but it had a "great reputation for being durable and robust" and could be worth more on the open market than in the boiler.

He said the meatworks' wastewater was "a by-product of our process, but we now call it an asset".

"Everything is now a resource."

The star of the show is the new $5.5 million boiler which the Northern Co-operative Meat Company was able to fund after a couple of boom years.

The centrepiece of the boiler is a massive 90 tonne piece of machinery which stopped traffic on the Pacific Highway earlier this year when it was trucked up St Helena Hill near Ewingsdale by three prime movers pushing and pulling in unison.

It is expected to be operational in February next year.

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