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Saturday, November 12, 2005

Cardboard fuels up kelp industry

The Mercury: Cardboard fuels up kelp industry [13nov05]

A PILOT project on King Island could see waste cardboard used to fuel one of the island's biggest industries.

King Island Kelp Industries is trialling the use of cardboard briquettes as fuel for its drying process.

The company's general manager, John Hiscock, said while the project was in its early days it could solve an expensive waste disposal problem for the King Island Dairy and further add to his business's strong recycling philosophy.

"King Island Kelp Industries was born from the idea of clever recycling," Mr Hiscock said.

"Until we were established in 1975 kelp was left on the shoreline resulting in an unsightly appearance and the rich smell of rotting kelp throughout the town of Currie."

However, since then the kelp has been collected by a small army of freelance harvesters and delivered to the King Island Kelp Industries factory where it is granulised and shipped to Scotland to be processed into alginates -- a tasteless thickening substance added to most food and pharmacy products.

The business is now returning annual export earnings of $2.5 million to the island economy and providing direct and indirect employment for more than 100 people -- all from a waste product.

"The bulk of the energy used to dry the kelp comes from the wind and the sun and the rest of it is created by waste wood collected from the island," Mr Hiscock said.

"And the harvesting is done by locals who use the money to subsidise their farms or pay school fees."

Mr Hiscock said a partnership between King Island Kelp Industries and the King Island Dairy, with assistance from the Department of Economic Development, was hoping to extend the island's recycling efforts to include cardboard.

"The King Island Dairy produces a lot of waste cardboard and it is expensive to remove from the island," Mr Hiscock said.

So the two companies are trialling ways to use the estimated 200-300 tonnes of waste cardboard generated each year as a fuel source.

"The cardboard is too bulky to burn in its original form so we have been trying to compress the cardboard into briquettes about the size of a house brick," Mr Hiscock said. "It isn't as simple as it sounds, though, because if the brick is too dense it won't burn and if it is not dense enough it burns too quickly."

Mr Hiscock said if the cardboard could reduce the kelp factory's wood consumption by even a third it would be viable.

Results of the feasibility study are expected in the next month.


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