Invasive weed converted into power in Australia

The Australian Government has awarded AU$1 million (US$500,000) to the Northern Territory’s Power and Water Authority for a pilot electricity plant, which will run on power from a highly invasive weed.

Announcing the grant, Environment Minister Robert Hill said the project was a major step forward in helping to reduce the nation’s noxious weed problem. A new 350-kilowatt pilot power plant will be built on the Adelaide River flood plain, near the road to Kakadu National Park, using Mimosa Pigra as a source of fuel. The prickly tree – introduced from Latin America – grows up to six metres tall and renders otherwise productive agricultural land useless.

“Mimosa Pigra is a major threat to the Territory’s ecosystem and infests more than 80,000 hectares of native vegetation,” Hill said. This AU$3.3 million (US$1.7 million) project will cut Mimosa Pigra infestations in the Northern Territory while also reducing Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions, saving about 24,000 tonnes of greenhouse emissions over the next ten years by integrating briquetting, gasification and power generation technologies.

The Northern Territory Power and Water Authority estimates that there are between 20 to 30 tonnes of weed per hectare available for harvesting. In the Territory alone, about AU$13 million (US$6.5 million) in pastoral production and control is lost annually because of weeds. However, in Australia as a whole, weeds cost approximately AU$3.3 billion (US$1.7 billion) each year in control costs alone.

“This project is an excellent demonstration of the environmental synergies possible between renewable energy production and management of noxious plants,” Hill said. “The technology also has the potential to be applied to other noxious plants throughout central Australia, including a type of acacia, which is taking over pastoral land in Western Queensland.”

The Northern Territory project has been funded by the AU$55 million (US$28 million) Commonwealth’s Renewable Energy Commercialisation Program (RECP) which fosters the growth of Australia’s renewable energy industry. So far, over 40 projects have been offered funding under the programme from grants administered through the Australian Greenhouse Office.

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