Murdoch University researchers met with Wagin Shire representatives, local farmers, businesses and Landcare representatives last week to discuss an innovative proposal, which could be run through to the National Centre of Excellence in Desalination.
The tour last Friday included an overview of current desalination projects on farms in both the Wagin and Katanning regions.
Murdoch University graduate students are already collaborating with Morton Seeds and Grains in Wagin to investigate the potential for renewable energy produced from biowaste.
“Around 22,000 tonnes of oat husks are produced at the Wagin site each year, and we are examining the feasibility of developing a 2.5MW bioenergy cogeneration plant that produces both electricity and steam,” said Karne De Boer, a graduate student from Murdoch’s School of Engineering and Energy.
A decision on the viability of the bioenergy project will be made later this year.
Researchers also met with shire representatives to discuss the potential for integrated salinity management and use of renewable energy for the desalination of brackish water.
Professor David Doepel from the National Centre of Excellence in Desalination said the tour provided an invaluable opportunity to gain insight into the pressing salinity issues in the South West.
“The newly formed centre is an ideal forum to explore real-world choices that Wagin and Katanning could embrace and we are very appreciative for the opportunity to find out more about the region’s issues,” Professor Doepel said.
“The centre is focusing on improving the efficiency and cost of desalination, and reducing its carbon footprint through the use of renewable energy technology.
“It may be possible to build on existing industry partnerships that Murdoch University has in the region to create living laboratories to test desalination technologies and models that could significantly improve the management of the saline aquifer.”
Shire president Phillip Blight was very excited about the prospect of using a natural resource that Wagin has in abundance.
“I spoke of the pumping of the subsurface water under Wagin and of its potential as a resource,” he said.
“I also outlined the surface water harvesting that we are doing to supplement our water supplies to our ovals.
“During the visit to Mortons we learned of their need for pure water and here we found a ready use for the desal that was an option that could be done effectively and efficiently.”
Wagin Woodanilling Landcare zone manager Danielle Perrie facilitated the event and said she was happy with the way the day progressed.
“I started with a small idea of getting together a group of people to discuss the prospect of desalination in Wagin and it all turned out to be bigger than Ben Hur,” she said.
“The ideas that we shared during this meeting were wonderful and everyone went away thinking of new ways of making the projects work.”
Katanning Landcare Centre community landcare officer Ella Maesepp said she was excited about the venture as Katanning is a town with a major salinity problem.
“It is importing scheme water meets water supply needs – further contributing to the amount of water in our ground system and exacerbating rather than helping our high water table issues,” she said.
“Katanning has been involved with the Rural Towns Program, and as part of the CSIRO Water for a Healthy Country flagship program.
“A business plan was developed for a desalination plant in Katanning – by producing potable water from our groundwater, it would help to lower water tables while also reducing the amount of water imported into Katanning and then nothing happened.
“In 2008, the interest in the desal plant was re-invigorated, with a solar pond added to the idea.
“The solar pond will use the concentrated brine from the desal plant to generate electricity – renewable energy.
“Stakeholders are positive about the idea, but a large input of funding and technical expertise is needed to make it happen.
“The Centre for Excellence in Desalination may be the answer to that problem.”