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$4.3m bioHub facility is an Australian first

A Utilitas plant for power production in agriculture
A Utilitas plant for power production in agriculture Uwe Znker

THE Northern Rivers is set to create another first with plans to build Australia's first crowdfunded bioHub in Casino.

The project will build a biohub facility to transform organic waste and waste water from the Richmond Valley region into energy, clean water and other bio-products.

Brisbane based Utilitas Group Pty Ltd, a bioHub developer, has partnered with Domacom to raise $4.3 million to secure the site and develop the biohub.

Richmond Valley Council General Manager Vaughan Macdonald said Casino had been mapped as an ideal place to develop a biohub due to the sheer size of biomass from the agricultural and food processing industries.

He said Utilitas approached council in 2016 and are currently seeking investment from community and businesses.

"It's going to be located adjacent to our sewerage treatment plant," Mr Macdonald said.

"(They will use) the sludge that is a by-product of the treatment process, they will also look at using food organics and other green waste...(which) goes in to the reactor and basically recovers that energy into the form of a gas which then produces electricity."

"They are now in the process of securing the capital funding, which is the subject of the investment road show that's coming to the Northern Rivers this month."

"(Investors) get a guaranteed percentage return on their investment."

He said the biohub is scale-able and is able to be built up depending on how much product there is.

"One of the opportunities is to power our sewerage treatment plant (which) uses a significant amount of electricity so there's the opportunity for us to lock in longer term cheaper power prices."

"There's also the opportunity there for the power from the biohub to be utilised by the medicinal cannabis facility."

Utilitas CEO, Fiona Waterhouse said while this plant is designed for industrial use, they do have the capacity to power thousands of homes upon future expansions.

"We are anticipating the initial scale of this to be 330 kilowatts," Ms Waterhouse said.

"It's 100 to 200 times bigger than a household solar unit."

Utilitas intends to engage local contractors to build the project and three jobs will be created at the plant as well as provide employment opportunities for the sales and transport of byproducts.

Ms Waterhouse said the target return from DomaCom to investors would be around eight percent per annum.

Subject to successful capital raising and an approved regulatory pathway, the bioHub is estimated to be fully operational within a 12 month period.

Cr Macdonald said council will be working hard over the next year to move this project along quickly.

"Over the next 12 months we would like to think that this is well and truly progressed to the point where we know it's going to happen, that's our aim," Mr Macdonald said.

"We work with investors like this very actively to help them through the redtape, like EPA licensing and development approvals."Four seminars will be held from next week for community members to learn more about biohubs and its prospects in the Northern Rivers.

Topics:  casino crowdfunding domacom northern rivers environment organic waste richmond valley



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