Euan’s background in agriculture and passion for a sustainable future have lead him to partner with Tom Vogan (an engineer), in facilitating the development of the bioenergy industry in Western Australia. Together, Euan and Tom formed Energy Farmers four years ago and have since worked on a number of projects and developing new technologies to turn organic waste from chickens, pigs, agriculture and industry into renewable energy.
Euan says, “we have developed our own technology that uses thermal conversion to process biomass into energy”. “We heat biomass up and as it heats up it releases gases and those gases can then be either burnt to create heat or fed into a motor to drive a generator”. Euan spent a significant amount of time last year work on a pyrolysis kiln and it has just been upgraded to include an integrated drying system. As well as producing heat energy the kiln makes biochar as a by-product.
Biochar has a lot of uses (Euan’s shared links fifty five uses!) including carbon capture when added to soil but they have also found that it increases live weight gain when mixed with feed in goats and cattle and it can reduce pathogens in chickens when added to the diet or used as a bedding material. It can possibly increase yield when used in poor soils and there has been some scientific study to suggest this but it is not widely-known or accepted amongst farmers or in the market, yet. Because many bioenergy projects rely on the sale of the by-products to be viable, growing awareness of and the market for biochar really can be seen as the missing link.
Euan’s articulated a vision for how the Midwest can turn its waste into energy, but his networking and vision are not limited to the Midwest. Following his attendance and presentations at last year’s Bioenergy Australia’s conference, Euan was invited to attend the Community Energy Congress to be held in Canberra in June. The congress is aimed at fostering development of the community energy sector and fits in well with what Energy Farmers is trying to achieve.
Participation in such forums and networking is necessary in the early stages of an industry like Euan’s. Four years later, while there’s more and more community support for what Euan’s doing, it remains politically and financially difficult to really grow the local renewable energy industry in the Midwest and Australia. While in other countries bioenergy or renewable energy R&D and entrepreneurs are well-supported and growing rapidly, Australia has no established market for biochar, and uncertainty around carbon pricing negatively affects the ability to get investment or government support, and makes longer-term projects and contracts difficult to commit to.
Euan has been involved with the Pollinators pretty much since its inception. He says, “I got to know Andrew Outhwaite through social networks around town, so I’d heard about the Pollinators and saw it was a good thing”. “Although time limits how often I come in, it’s good to be able to come in and bounce a few ideas around with other people”.
Andrew Outhwaite is Pollinators Executive Officer, overseeing the programs and events to support innovators and entrepreneurs like Euan. “It’s enterprises like Energy Farmers that demonstrate how people in regional Australia can capitalise on the opportunities of a low-carbon economy. While it’s not easy, innovators like Euan prove that you can be rurally-based, find support, lead significant changes in our society and grow new sustainable industries for the future”.
This profile was researched and co-authored by freelance journalist Steven White and Andrew Outhwaite.