Veolia's Earth Power: An Industrial Gut Turning Scraps Into Energy

Inside Sydney's Gut, Food Scraps Are 'Eaten' To Make Green Energy and fertiliser. And no, it doesn't smell good.

09/05/2016 1:00 PM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:52 PM AEST
Cayla Dengate / Getty Images
Food scraps are turned into energy at Veolia's Earth Power.

What's oozing out of the machine looks like a soft serve ice cream, but it isn't. It's a super heated melange of polystyrene containers.

So that's the chemical smell mingling with the aroma of warming veggies at the back of Sydney Markets.

I'm following a crate of spoiled fruit from the market floor to Veolia's food waste recycling plant Earth Power -- which is a multi-story vat of gut-style microbes that eat waste and create energy.

Yep, energy.

The same stuff cranked out by coal-fired power stations and nuclear reactors except the input of this facility is food scraps, grease traps and recycled water.

If Earthworks is the city's gut, no prizes for guessing what body part the polystyrene recycling machine most closely resembles.


Aah recycling. It fumes. It oozes. It burps but ultimately, it is the answer to cutting down the globe's waste and turning landfill into useful, money making commodities.

Veolia Australia executive general manager Rod Naylor puts it best:

"We do it because it's the right thing to do, but you can create the most brilliant recycling system though unless you can make it economically viable, no one's going to sign up," Naylor told HuffPost Australia.

"Earth Power is actually saving food producers money on waste."

Cayla Dengate
A flare burns off excess methane at Earth Power.

Earth Power looks like any other big, industrial factory. It's got trucks rolling in, a gas flare intermittently sending a puff of fire into the sky and a pungent smell filling the nostrils.

It's a far cry from a tree-hugging greenie's dream but it actually is a world leader in taking waste and creating electricity and fertiliser.

Earth Power general manager David Clark told HuffPost Australia the process from waste to clean energy was mostly done by microbes.

"It's similar to a mammal's gut," Clark said, gesturing to one of two towering, 4600-cubic-metre tanks.

"They eat food and create energy, and gas."

University students once came to test the microbes, Clark said, but the microbiologists weren't used to creatures with such powerful methane-producing capabilities.

"Most of the samples had exploded before they got back to the university," he said with a laugh.

At Earth Power, their gas-making ability is praised, because the gas is collected and then sent to combustible engines that use the gas to create energy, which is fed into the grid.

As for excess microbes?

"We say thank you to them on the way up as they're turned into fertiliser," Clark said.

This fertiliser (dried by the excess heat from the combustible engines) then returns to where it all began, the farm.

"It's truly a cradle to cradle approach," Clark said.

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