Cleaning up our act
John Lucas is a man who likes to get his hands dirty.
An Associate Professor in Chemical Engineering at the University of Newcastle, Lucas also sits on the Board of Innova Soil Technology, a company he founded which remediates contaminated soil.
"Soil remediation is a major industry in Australia," Lucas says. âThere are an estimated 70,000 contaminated sites in NSW alone and the clean-up costs across the country are somewhere between $5 and $10 billion."
Innova was established in 1995 from research and development conducted at the University through its commercial arm, Newcastle Innovation (formerly TUNRA). The company has successfully treated thousands of tonnes of contaminated soil and been recognised with a National Engineers Australia award for environmental engineering excellence. Innova will soon start work on a multi-million dollar project to clean up a former vehicle assembly factory in Victoria.
Innova remediates a vast range of contaminants in soil including tars, greases, chlorinated pesticides and oils. The process separates and converts these hydrocarbons, returning the soil to its original state. The soil is then used for building roads, golf courses and even filling in disused quarries or old industrial sites for commercial or residential purposes.
Lucas says people are becoming less tolerant of contaminated land, and remediation is the most environmentally friendly and cost-effective solution.
"Our plant is mobile, with an overall remediation cost of about $100 to $120 per tonne. In comparison, it costs about $150 to $250 per tonne to take contaminated soil to landfill. The environmental and cost benefits are obvious when dealing with large quantities of soil."
Innova is working towards combining smaller quantities of soil for cost-effective remediation and is seeking partners to invest in a state-of- the-art recycling centre.
"Of great appeal to potential partners is Innova’s close alignment with the University – anyone who works with Innova will have access to the latest research and development through that relationship.
"This will help maintain Innova’s leading market position and deliver great benefit to our partners."