Radicle Agriculture’s compost technology offers HEAPS of potential
The material previously managed in these windrows is now processed in the six blocks at the top of the picture.
Positive outcomes from the food organics, garden organics (FOGO) composting trial at Lockyer Valley Regional Council using HEAPS aerated floor technology has generated interest in several sectors including agriculture, mining, and regional governments.
Martin Tower, Manager Director Radicle Agriculture, says the benefits that HEAPS provides through low capital and operational costs, when compared to both turner windrow and in vessel options, are a key point of interest.
The HEAPS system uses aerated floor technology, a series of pipes running underneath the organics pile, to introduce oxygen on a more frequent basis, optimising conditions for decomposition.
The computer-controlled system is connected to a series of sensors which monitor oxygen levels in the pile and automatically introduce air when levels fall below a set parameter. The same technology can be applied to an irrigation system to monitor and automatically adjust moisture levels.
Radicle Agriculture has four operational sites with several more in various stages of planning. Martin says clients have been impressed with the simplicity and low cost of operating the system.
“Many potential clients have been surprised by the relatively small footprint of the system compared with alternatives,” Martin says. “HEAPS generally requires about 20 per cent of the land required for a turned windrow system of similar capacity.”
Martin says he’s often asked how the HEAPS technology prevents odours from impacting the environment. There are several elements to this. Firstly, it’s crucial that feedstocks are managed to ensure suitable carbon to nitrogen ratios are maintained. Odours frequently occur when there is excess nitrogen present.
He says it’s fortunate that kerbside collected FOGO provides a suitable mix for the HEAPS.
Secondly, Radicle Agriculture recommends users apply a layer of finished compost to the top of each pile which acts as a biofilter.
Finally, most odours result from the existence of anaerobic conditions within the pile or windrow. Oxygen saturation levels can drop rapidly in an active pile however the HEAPS controller generally introduces air, for about five minutes every hour, to maintain optimal levels.
The challenges of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), prevalent in food packaging and cooking equipment, are a common concern in FOGO-based systems. Martin says contamination management, starting with client education, has been instrumental in achieving compliant results in the Lockyer Valley trial.
“There is no doubt that the efforts of the Lockyer Valley team towards educating their client base about contamination management has significantly contributed to the successful outcomes,” he says.
“We have learned a great deal from this experience and look forward to working with more councils to implement successful systems.”
Martin says while the Lockyer Valley trial has proven that a basic HEAPS system can adequately manage FOGO processing, what’s more exciting is that the compost being produced from various waste streams is now reused for rehabilitation, urban amenity, and agricultural use.
He says Radicle Agriculture’s experience working with growers to manage their soil health gives clients an inside into market creation and development for their composts.
“We are seeing a significant increase in demand for alternative fertilisers due to both costs and environmental concerns in the farming community,” Martin says.
“There is also a massive potential for the use of composts as an input to mine-site rehabilitation. Our mining clients are focused on this potential reuse for the organic waste produced by their canteens and within their supply chains.”
The ability of the HEAPS technology compost controller to automatically record compliance data, including batch temperatures, oxygen saturations and moisture levels every 15 minutes, provides a unique opportunity to reduce the compliance record keeping burden. This data can be stored online, along with data from an integrated weather station, to keep thorough life batch data stored in a single location. Martin says that when users add input and out-loading dockets, the lifetime data for each batch is available in a permanent record.
The controller system can also be retrofitted to existing composting systems.
“HEAPS offers remote sites and regional councils with a cost-effective option to establish a circular economy for organics within their own region,” Martin says.
“Many councils are considering options to freight FOGO significant distances for processing. In many cases, the diesel used in this process will be greater than the greenhouse gas emissions saved from landfill diversion.
“HEAPS may offer a regional based solution, create regional jobs and benefit their communities through the use of composted product. As Lockyer Valley has demonstrated, it is possible for a virtuous circle to be created where regional communities can benefit directly from their efforts in source separation and contamination management.”
For more information, visit: www.radicleag.com.au