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Clough caught in waste split

COMMISSIONING problems on a $35 million waste treatment plant have led to a split between engineering group Clough, its technology partner Bedminster and the Southern Metropolitan Regional Council.

The SMRC has taken over the commissioning of its Canning Vale plant six months ahead of schedule so that it can replace the all-important drive system.

It negotiated a commercial settlement with Clough and Bedminster, and expects to complete the project within its original $35 million budget.

The SMRC plant is expected to be the first of a new generation of secondary treatment plants that will cut the volume of municipal waste going to landfills around Perth.

Two other regional councils have made substantial progress on plans to establish waste treatment plants.

Mindarie Regional Council, whose member councils include City of Perth, has narrowed the technology options for its $50 million plant, while the Western Metropolitan Regional Council is in advanced negotiations with local firm Organic Resource Technologies.

The problems at the Canning Vale plant relate to the drive mechanism installed by Clough to turn the giant Bedminster composting vessels, or digesters. The plant presently has a hydraulic drive system rather than the mechanical system, known as ‘girth gears’, that has been used on the dozen or so Bedminister plants installed elsewhere around the world.

SMRC chief executive Stuart McCall said the system was currently limited to two-thirds capacity and therefore SMRC was planning to install girth gears.

“The contract finished earlier than expected,” he said. “We have stepped in to take over commissioning.”

Mr McCall said he was confident the final capital cost of the plant would still be in line with its $35 million budget.

“There was a structured settlement. Money changed hands so that we can complete the upgrade,” he said.

A spokesman for Clough declined to comment on the settlement.

Mr McCall said that, despite the commissioning problems, the council was still firmly committed to Bedminster technology.

“Early trials show we can achieve high compost quality,” he said.

Mr McCall added that the council would be proceeding with on-farm trials to demonstrate the benefits of using its compost as a soil improver.

With help from an $800,000 State Government grant, the council aims to create a new market for compost among horticultural and cereal crop farms.

The development of new markets is critical in order to avoid disrupting existing markets, since SMRC expects to produce 50,000 tonnes of compost annually when its plant reaches full capacity.

Mr McCall said other aspects of the council’s $70 million resource recovery centre at Canning Vale were operating very successfully.

It processes about 35,000 tonnes of recyclable products, such as paper, plastic and glass, and 30,000 tonnes of green waste a year.

Mindarie Regional Council decided last week that gasification and combustion technologies would not be considered for its waste treatment plant.

“The decision reflects community concerns about the thermal technology processes,” MRC chief executive Kevin Poynton said.

He added that MRC did not have a view on the technical merit of thermal technologies, which has been championed locally by New Zealand based Global Olivine.

MRC will focus instead on biological processes – composting or anaerobic digestion.

Mr Poynton said the council’s decision to restrict the technology options for its waste treatment plant would not directly affect the six companies short-listed to bid for the project.

In practice, the decision will require Test Energy, which has championed incineration systems, and ASX-listed Novera Energy, which had favoured gasification, to assess alternative technologies.

The other short-listed companies are Bedminster, Thiess, Worley and Global Renewables (half-owned by ASX-listed GRD).

Organic Resource Technologies’ plans took a big step forward this week when shareholders of ASX-listed Syntech approved a series of transactions to effect the backdoor listing of ORT.

ORT has developed a unique waste treatment system that combines aerobic composting with anaerobic digestion in a single process.

It has an in-principle agreement with the Western Metropolitan Regional Council to build a $4 million demonstration plant at the council’s Brockway Road transfer station in Subiaco.

WMRC chief executive Martin Glover confirmed that his council was in final negotiations with ORT.

 

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