Wastewater from the production of explosives is being used as a valuable fertiliser for a pastoral station in West Australia’s Pilbara region.
It is part of a new trial and partnership between Yara Pilbara, which operates a liquid ammonia plant on the Burrup peninsula, and Pardoo Beef Corporation.
Nitrogen-rich water is a by-product from the production of ammonium nitrate, a key ingredient of explosives used in the region’s mines.
Rather than being wasted, that water is being turned into a liquid nitrogen fertiliser to help grow pastures at Pardoo Station’s irrigated cattle operations, about 200 kilometres north east of Port Hedland.
Boom, beef and bucks
Pardoo Station raises Wagyu beef cattle and their meat is a premium product in Australia and abroad, with one animal potentially netting up to $7,000.
Pardoo Beef Corporation owner Bruce Cheung said his Wagyu cattle enterprise would make big logistical savings by sourcing its fertiliser locally.
“The sandy condition of the soil in the Pilbara will require a tremendous amount of fertiliser to make the irrigated cropping go well,” he said.
“For us to buy overseas and ship [fertiliser] into Perth and then try to transfer it up to the Pilbara, it is a very expensive and difficult process.”
Mr Cheung has already invested more than $20 million in 18 centre-pivot irrigators to water 840 hectares of pasture using vast underground water reserves.
And plans for expansion are already underway.
“It is the utilisation of the irrigation that will allow us to increase the carrying capacity of the station,” Mr Cheung said.
Mr Cheung aimed to have 15,000 head of Wagyu on the station by 2019, and 40,000 cattle by 2025.
He said a local supply of fertiliser would help fuel that growth.
The fertiliser will be trialled at Pardoo for 3-6 months, but Mr Cheung said he believed the partnership would succeed.
A ‘win-win’ situation
While its Pilbara operations were focused on chemicals used in the mining industry, Yara was already a global producer of agricultural fertiliser products.
Yarra Pilbara general manager Chris Rijksen said the new deal in WA’s north would be beneficial for both businesses.
“We have the opportunity to upgrade our wastewater into a product,” Mr Rijksen said.
The wastewater from Yara’s ammonium nitrate production was usually evaporated and disposed of.
But through a special process, Mr Rijksen said that would could be turned into a valuable product.
“We already studied the situation around our wastewater pumps, and we were looking for optimisation potential,” he said.
Pioneering Pilbara’s agriculture
The two companies were connected by former WA Nationals leader Brendon Grylls as part of his new business venture, the Brendon Grylls Group.
Mr Grylls said Yara’s expertise in international fertiliser production and Mr Cheung’s pioneering vision for Pilbara agriculture made a good match.
The holy grail of downstream processing of our natural resources … is to then see that downstream processing used to benefit more expansion of local industries,” he said.
“That’s what we’re seeing here. We’re not seeing the ‘dig it up and export it somewhere else’.”
Mr Grylls said he worked with both parties to tailor a fertiliser product to the production setting at Pardoo.
“In broadacre applications, you apply your nitrogen once a month or a couple of times a month,” he said.
“Whereas in pivot irrigation, where the sprinklers come on every day, we’re applying it every day.”
Mr Grylls said the trial aimed to prove the wastewater fertiliser could be fully utilised by the plants, and not leach into the water table or other water sources.
“If we can come up with a product that’s manufactured locally, saving thousands of kilometres of transport as well as being friendlier to the environment, we’re scoring a few goals,” Mr Grylls said.