Ewen McKenzie's plan to burn Canberra's rubbish to generate electricity
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Ewen McKenzie's plan to burn Canberra's rubbish to generate electricity

Former Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie has launched a new project that he says will take 90 per cent of the rubbish sent to Mugga Lane and burn much of it to generate electricity.

The $200 million factory would be built at Ipswich Street in Fyshwick, backing on to the railway line, allowing Capital Recycling Solutions, for which Mr McKenzie is project director, to export recyclables and import extra rubbish by rail.

Director of Capital Recycling Solutions Adam Perry, Dean Ward from ActewAGL, and project manager Ewen McKenzie at the former Shell site marked for a waste-to-energy factory at Fyshwick.

Director of Capital Recycling Solutions Adam Perry, Dean Ward from ActewAGL, and project manager Ewen McKenzie at the former Shell site marked for a waste-to-energy factory at Fyshwick.

Photo: Sitthixay Ditthavong

The waste-to-energy plant would be a 50:50 joint venture with electricity retailer ActewAGL, and would seek a feed-in tariff from the government for the electricity produced.

The firm has put a scoping document to the government and is now preparing an environmental impact assessment, including a health impact study, which he hopes to have released for public comment within a couple of months. Meantime, he is seeking feedback, including doorknocking in the closest suburb, Narrabundah.

The project plans to use the railway to export recylcables and import rubbish.

The project plans to use the railway to export recylcables and import rubbish.

Photo: Sitthixay Ditthavong
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The project would divert trucks carrying rubbish to Mugga Lane to Fyshwick instead, where they would enter via Ipswich Street, dump their loads indoors, with negative pressure to minimise smell, and leave via Lithgow Street behind.

Rubbish would be sorted to extract recyclables, before being used to fuel the waste-to-energy plant.

Mr McKenzie said the focus was on household rubbish collected at the kerbside and commercial and industrial waste. The plant would not take asbestos, contaminated soil or clinical waste.

Mugga Lane accepts about 300,000 tonnes of rubbish a year, and Mr McKenzie said 90 per cent of that could be diverted to Fyshwick. Of the 270,000 tonnes a year that came in, he expected about 20 per cent would be recyclable, leaving more than 200,000 tonnes to be burned for energy. It would produce up to 30 megawatts, sufficient to power 28,000 homes, and is being touted as a "green solution" that would put Canberra at the forefront of waste management.

Four per cent of the amount going into the plant would be left as residue and returned to landfill.

The firm's scoping document envisages up to 400,000 tonnes altogether including as much as 150,000 tonnes via rail from elsewhere - ensuring a consistent supply so the waste-to energy plant can be "a true baseload electricity generator". It also envisages using sludge from Canberra and Queanbeyan sewerage and water plants to fuel the plant.

But Mr McKenzie said the main focus was not interstate, but the Mugga Lane landfill.

The plan comes just months after Foy was knocked back in its bid for a factory at Hume that would convert plastics to diesel and petrol, but Mr McKenzie said the proposals were completely different.

His project would send recyclable plastics to recycling, and would produce electricity rather than fuel. It was also based on proven technology, used in hundreds of plants around the world. While none were operating in Australia yet, a similar factory had approval in Western Australia.

A video produced by Capital Recycling Solutions showing its proposal.

He did not have figures for the amount of plastic or other materials expected to go into the burner.

Nor did he want to name a specific overseas factory as a model, saying Capital Recycling was still weighing up the specific technology.

"This type of technology, this type of facility has been functioning in hundreds of facilities around the world. This is not R and D," he said. "It's proven, it's safe and it meets the standards day in day out."

The factory would operate seven days a week, producing power around the clock, and employ 60 full-timers.

It would have two 32 metre-high stacks. It includes a "flue gas cleaning system", in which dust is separated, heavy metals are extracted, sulphur and acids are removed, and pollutants such as dioxins are destroyed. Ash residue can be used into road basel with remaining residue returned to landfill.

It also promises live emission monitoring on a website. Capital Recycling's initial emissions report, from Todoroski Air Sciences, said emissions would meet the most stringent Australian and European standards. Much more detailed work is now being done.

The firm says at the current rate of dumping, the Mugga Lane landfill had "no more than a few years" of life left.

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Mr McKenzie said landfill has historically been cheap, but costs were rising, making new technology "more and more interesting and viable".

The closest residents at the Fyshwick caravan park, which Mr McKenzie said was 560 metres from the centre of the factory site, and Narrabundah, 820 metres away.