Plant & Equipment

Putting innovation, sustainability back on the agenda

Innovation and sustainability weren’t prominent themes in the recent federal election campaign. Unfortunately, in the much-vaunted “24/7 news cycle”, the focus was more on the political personalities than policy.

Are any of us clear on what the incoming government’s innovation and sustainability policies are? Politicians are talented at talking about these themes very broadly but when it comes to specifics it’s ultimately up to industry to show leadership.

Perhaps innovation is best demonstrated when someone is prepared to take risks and deliver on goals within current regulatory structures and strictures. For example, the Brisbane West Wellcamp Airport from conception to realisation occurred in just 19 months because the Wagner Group backed itself and invested its own funds and resources. Many quarries, by comparison, sometimes wait up to two years just for approval on a site extension.

Similarly, the advanced processing plant at Boral’s Peppertree Quarry would not have seen the light of day had it not been for the commitment of Boral and its supplier. The manner in which Peppertree operates turns the conventional view of quarrying on its head. The operation runs with almost clockwork-like efficiency – a lot of thought is behind the plant design and installation, with emphasis on safety, efficiency and quality control. Boral’s David Bolton describes Peppertree as a “generational investment”. Further, given that Peppertree replaced Boral’s former site at Penrith Lakes, Boral has not forgotten its sand market, developing its own manufactured sand products in a region where there is a dearth of natural sand.

Sustainability was rarely alluded to in the election campaign. Many of the political parties obsessed about climate change, pledging to cut carbon emissions and setting more ambitious targets for renewable energy sources. Yet, this “dialogue” excluded any discussion on recycling practices, and the efficiencies and savings that can be derived from the development of recycled aggregates. Although the recycled aggregates sector is young and it is difficult to quantity the volumes of virgin materials conserved through a ramped up C&D program, recycled aggregates still have a more tangible record than abstract targets for carbon emissions and renewable energy.

Indeed, by experimenting with different binders as alternatives to Portland cement, the recycled aggregates sector is developing not only less carbon-intensive manufacturing processes, it’s transforming old aggregates into new. If that’s not sustainability and innovation at work, what is? More money should be injected into the recycled aggregates sector (where there are material benefits), not vacuous programs for reduced CO2 emissions and renewable energy use.

While the focus on renewables like wind, wave and solar power is laudable, recycled aggregates ought to be recognised as a renewable source. Quarries could benefit if, through grants or commercial partnerships, they were encouraged by all tiers of government to diversify their operations into recycling aggregates. Perhaps there would be less angst for quarries that await rudimentary approvals of site extensions or encounter environmental hurdles every time they apply to expand their footprint; diversifying into recycled aggregates would give operators an extra ace up the sleeve. The public would also look upon quarries more favourably for conserving their reserves.

It’s all too easy for the aggregates industry (like its mining counterparts) to whine that government red tape hampers its growth. There will always be compliance structures and strictures – but if the quarrying industry is prepared to innovate and engage in sustainable practices within those parameters, it will have a strong case in the long term to persuade government that some conditions can be relaxed and that there is scope to make meaningful gains for the environment. It requires a change in mindset and strategy.

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