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EcoNova’s water reclamation plant unveiled

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article image six star

Australia’s first private utility is ready to roll out a wastewater treatment plant, powered by its own waste.

A water reclamation plant invented by new Queensland utilities provider EcoNova has been hailed as a world leader. It turns out water to a previously unreachable standard: six star Class A++, and is thought to be the first wastewater treatment unit, fully powered by energy extracted from the waste products that it treats.

EcoNova has also recently become what it says is the first private firm in Australia authorised to provide water, sewage, recycled water and garbage services to any community. The Queensland Government gave it the green-light on the basis of its integrated systems, which operate independent of the water mains. EcoNova hopes councils will outsource their services in new developments to avoid upgrading infrastructure and shift the service risk to the private sector.

EcoNova’s first venture is a $1.47 million contract to provide wastewater treatment units for 300 existing and future properties at the Noosa North Shore Tourism Portal, plus on top of that to supply potable water and solid waste services.

Justin Holbrook, co-founder of the Sunshine Coast company and director of R&D, keeps a tight lid on the details, as there is a patent pending. But the technology combines digestion of solid green waste with membrane bioreactors.

EcoNova found there was a way to treat wastewater at the same time as one treats domestic waste using some pretty smart biotechnology and good common sense.

Justin Holbrook’s claims are backed up by research partners at the University of Queensland. Dr Bill Clark, head of Sustainable Technologies at the university, rated it as the world’s advanced system of wastewater and solid organic waste treatment. Dr Howard Leemon, manager of the university’s commercialisation arm UniQuest, agrees.

As far as it knows, this type of technology has not successfully been done before. The university has years of research in solid waste treatment, and Justin has extensive experience in wastewater and urban development, so it is confident.

The technology has apparently begun to draw interest from mining companies, industrial areas, tourist resorts and individuals across the Asia-Pacific, including Xstrata’s coal mines at Mt Isa and a new top-shelf eco-village on Kakula Island in Vanuatu.

Drought-proofed village
Last month, Brisbane City Council Cr Helen Abrahams turned the first sod at EcoNova’s own eco-style village, developed with the support of the council, EPA and the University of Queensland. The 21-house development, called S3 Manly West, will double as a product display centre.

Residents will use 50-60 per cent less potable water than in a conventional subdivision, according to Holbrook, with company claims that savings can go as high as 98 per cent, when combined with normal water efficiency appliances.

A household could be drought-proofed for around $10,000, turning grey and black wastewater into a previously unattainable standard. The recycled water replaces drinking water in toilet flushing, irrigation and outdoor usage such as car washing. The project has been two years in the design, and will be a test of the company’s abilities after the council agreed to it providing the utility services. The development on the outskirts of Brisbane will not be connected to the water or wastewater network, which if successful will be a welcome advance as Queensland suffers its worst drought on record.

According to Brian Stewart, chief executive of the Urban Development Institute of Australia, S3 Manly West was one of the exciting projects he had seen. Stewart added that the showcase would make it easier to approach local authorities for headworks concessions for sustainable urban developments.

One local authority quoted $4 million to do all the headworks at Manly West, whereas EcoNova agreed to provide a drought-proofing service for $600,000.

Brad Warren of property developer FKP has signed a contract with EcoNova to construct and operate a large-scale unit for the Peregian Springs development on the Sunshine Coast. According to Warren, it reduced the cost and size of the mains connection, did away with rainwater tanks and safely managed the health risk of recycling water.

By the end of 2006, EcoNova aims its new factory in Nambour will have rolled out 600-800 NovaClear units.

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