‘Green’ Poultry Farming Heats up With Geothermal + Solar Innovation

A new hybrid geothermal and solar energy system is set to dramatically reduce emissions and energy costs for many Australian poultry farms. The University of Melbourne has teamed up with geothermal companies Ground Source Systems and Fourth Element Energy to create a hybrid geothermal and solar heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system specifically for the poultry industry.
‘Green’ Poultry Farming Heats up With Geothermal + Solar Innovation
Professor Guillermo Narsilio in a geothermal plant. Image: Peter Casamento

The project is funded through a $318,000 grant from the Federal Government’s Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), which supports the global transition to net zero emissions by accelerating pre-commercial innovation.

The project will demonstrate how the energy demands of sheds can be coordinated with on-site renewable energy production, showing both economic and environmental benefits to farmers to further support the uptake of the technology across the industry.

The system includes a ground-source (geothermal) heat pump system and full-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) system with gas back-up, which can supply the HVAC needs of poultry farms.

The first stage of the project will see a demonstration, full-scale hybrid system installed and optimised for efficiency at the commercial poultry farm Bargo in Yanderra, NSW, this year.

University of Melbourne Professor Guillermo Narsilio said the collaborators have identified 827 poultry farms across Australia that meet the conditions needed to transition to hybrid geothermal and solar energy.

“Australia is in an ideal position to lead the development of this technology and reap the benefits in several intensive farming sectors,” Professor Narsilio said.

“We have world-class engineering expertise, ideal solar conditions, and the space to install geothermal systems. If we can achieve 15 to 20 per cent market uptake in the Australian poultry industry, it would reduce at least one tenth, or 160,000 tonnes of the industry's greenhouse gas emissions."

ARENA CEO Darren Miller said the project is expected to provide an important case study to drive uptake across the sector.

“Heat pumps represent a viable alternative to traditional heating systems in helping to reduce emissions from Australia’s meat and poultry industry,” Miller said.

“Ground Source Systems is showing what’s possible with the demonstration scale project and we’re hoping that the valuable knowledge gained will encourage even the larger poultry companies to jump on board and look to heat pumps as a viable solution to their energy needs and net zero goals.”

Director of Ground Source Systems Brad Donovan said the team will produce a public report on how the Yanderra system is operating that sets out a clear cost benefit analysis for poultry farmers.

“We are also exploring ways that farmers can be assisted with the upfront costs of retrofitting hybrid systems,” Donovan said.

The team estimates the new system could reduce the sector’s total greenhouse gas emissions by around one million tonnes (CO2-e) from 1.8 million tonnes to 0.8 million tons per annum, with 100 percent uptake.

The hybrid energy costs for farmers would be between 75 and 90 percent less than existing systems, subject to the farm operation method, with installation costs likely to be fully recovered within three to six years.

Poultry broiler industry sheds require both heating and cooling – traditionally provided by a combination of LPG-powered heaters and evaporative coolers – at a combined annual energy cost of around $80 to $100 million for chicken farms across Australia.

“We are excited about leading the way with this new technology and potentially expanding its use across more of our sheds,” said Bargo farm manager Simon Zerafa.

“Another benefit of the system is that it will reduce chick mortality by removing the humidity associated with gas heating in existing systems.”

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