Ecoteam Blog

Ecoteam works with communities to improve sustainability.

One project at a time.


Lismore Christmas Tree for 2016

Another Recycled Gem!

recycled lismore christmas tree made out of painted tyres 2016


Lismore is the proud owner of another recycled Christmas tree in 2016 – a gift from Lismore City Council to the community.

The recycled Christmas tree made by Council staff in 2015 was such a resounding success that management and staff thought it should become an annual tradition.

While last year’s tree was made of recycled bicycles, this year’s CBD centrepiece on the corner of Keen and Magellan streets is made of old car tyres and hub caps painted by Council staff and their families.

Meanwhile, the bicycle Christmas tree has found a new home in Clunes – a gift to village residents and a chance for visitors entering the Local Government Area to get a taste of Lismore’s personality.

“We love the idea of doing a tree each year made of recycled materials,” General Manager Gary Murphy said.

“The trees represent everything Lismore is about. They are sustainable, resourceful, colourful and quirky. We think it suits the personality of our city and our region, and judging from last year’s positive reaction, the community agrees.”

The 5.5 metre recycled Christmas tree was made with around 150 car tyres, 100 hub caps, 80 litres of paint donated by Dulux, almost half a tonne of steel, 120 1.25L plastic bottles to form the star, four bales of aluminium cans (a total of 88,000 cans) with recycled aluminium bows as presents around the base of the tree, around 40 old lights from the Lismore Airport runway, and a lot of love and Christmas spirit.

Adding to this year’s decorations is a new Merry Christmas sign at Lismore City Hall, which was painted by children at the Lismore City Council display during this year’s North Coast National.

“Council doesn’t always get things right, but we love our community and do our very best to make it a great place to live. Christmas gives us a chance to share our Christmas spirit and give something back from the heart,” Gary said.

“The tree is our way of saying thank you to the community. It is the extraordinary people who live here that truly make Lismore great – and we wish every one of them a very happy and safe Christmas.”

Ecoteam are very thankful to be a part of the Lismore community, and we thank Lismore City Council’s approach to sustainability.

We wish everyone a very happy holiday! And looking forward to the Lismore Christmas Tree for 2017!



Wastewater Feasibility Assessment

Wastewater Management in Non-Sewered Areas: Subdivisions and Rural Developments

Author: Cameron Hill, Environmental Engineer & Wastewater Management Specialist.

 the EcoCell fits into the landsacpe sewage treatment


Wastewater generation is something we cannot avoid. Everyone uses fresh water for bathing, drinking and washing, with much of this, now waste-water, going down the drain and into the sewer system for treatment at a municipal Sewage Treatment Plant (STP).

But what if there is no sewer? Where does your wastewater go then?

Many households on rural lots have what are commonly referred to as ‘onsite wastewater management systems’. The most basic of these systems is a septic tank and absorption trenches. The more complex systems include aerated treatment and irrigated systems, powered by electricity.

Onsite Sewage Feasibility Studies

So what are onsite sewage feasibility studies? They are an assessment of a site’s capability to handle wastewater disposal in an environmentally safe way, and help determine density of development and lot size requirements and locations.

Many existing rural communities were developed during a time where feasibility assessments and other planning processes were not considered. This has resulted in excessively small blocks and dense populations trying to dispose effluent in a confined area. As well as space issues, the wastewater is often only treated by a septic tank, resulting in:

  • Significant hydraulic overload of soils,
  • nutrient export to the environment, and
  • health issues from effluent contact due to overland flow of failing disposal systems.

As a Council Planning Tool

A feasibility study helps councils to determine the appropriateness of a development application for a subdivision or multiple occupancy to ensure land use is consistent with the land capabilities. They are one of the planning tools Council’s use to ensure sustainable development in unsewered areas.

Primary considerations that need to be assessed in a feasibility study include:

  • Sensitive receptors
  • Site & soil characteristics
  • Nutrient loading
  • Disposal of effluent

 Sensitive Receptors

Sensitive receptors refers to anything that can be adversely impacted by the disposal of wastewater. Typical sensitive receptors include permanent watercourses, groundwater, gullies, dams, groundwater extraction bores and contaminated sites. They are sensitive due to effluent either degrading water quality by the introduction of nutrients, degrading water security by contamination with pathogens or allowing the mobilisation of contaminants in the soil.

Sensitive receptors are dealt with during a feasibility study by ensuring adequate separation distances, or stipulating minimum treatment objectives to ensure positive environmental outcomes. Separation distances are typically done in GIS software, which allows the mapping of features and producing buffers around the features of a minimum distance. This gives the area of land in the development where they cannot consider for onsite sewage disposal.

Site & Soil Characteristics

Further to the separation distances, site characteristics are often the next issue which needs to be addressed. With the need to provide a sustainable and low energy approach to wastewater treatment in rural areas, some councils require it to be shown that a gravity disposal system will be able to effectively operate in every lot of the development. This requires assessing the site characteristics for:

  • Soil categories in potential land application areas, requiring extraction of boreholes and assessing soil structure, texture, pH and dispersion at a minimum.
  • Steep slopes, as gravity disposal is only optimal on slopes that are less than 15% due to the potential for effluent seepage and slumping occurring from constantly saturated soils.
  • Need for gravity operation i.e. will the house site allow effluent to be disposed via gravity downslope, without encroaching in buffer areas?
  • Shallow soils or depth to water tables, is the soil profile adequate for further polishing and removal of nutrients from disposed effluent?
  • Is sufficient area available in each lot to deal with hydraulic and nutrient load to council and guideline standards. 

Nutrient Loading

Nutrient loadings are considered next as part of the development. A ‘generic’ household is allocated to each potential lot the developer wishes to produce. Each of these lots will produce a certain amount of wastewater nutrients. Most councils allow an export of some nutrients, with any additional nutrients requiring that the development should be reduced in size, or minimum treatment performance is required for each allotment. The wastewater volumes help to dictate the hydraulic area requirements, i.e. the absolute minimum area the effluent should be disposed over. 

Effluent Disposal

Which finally brings us to disposing of the effluent. We have found out the areas where we can’t dispose effluent, we have found what the soils are, how much nutrients we are introducing into the system and estimated wastewater volumes. We now apply nutrient and water balance models to find the average wastewater disposal area for the ‘generic’ household per allotment. This step allows the size of disposal areas to be designed likely locations and reserve areas, and identifies any further treatment requirements or reductions in development size.

Why do we need to consider all of these things?

Basically it comes down to legislation.

  • Legislative background
    • AS1547
    • Australian water recycling guidelines
    • Individual council requirements
      • Distance to features
      • Treatment performances
      • Reserve areas
  • Mitigating risk
    • AS1547 method
    • Site constraints – mitigation methods
    • Land Application systems – limitations 

Project Application

Ecoteam recently conducted an onsite sewage feasibility assessment for a proposed rural landsharing community development in Larnook NSW. There currently exist many multiple occupancy developments in the area.

For this development, a site assessment was conducted and soils, watercourses, slopes and landforms and groundwater were considered for the development. In terms of onsite wastewater management, the site was fairly unconstrained by soil, with most soils around the development consisting of deep silty loam topsoils over sandy clay subsoil horizons.

It was found during the site assessment that many permanent and intermittent watercourses surrounded and crossed the property, fed by gullies and upslope catchments. This required excluding much of the “developable area” due to council considerations to keep development away from these water concentrating areas. This was an initially concerning when undertaking the desktop analysis, but onsite inspections realised that much of these areas were unfit for effluent disposal anyway due to steep slopes and poor soils.

The site assessment also noted the landform and locations of steep slopes. As the property had long, but narrow ridges between watercourses, many of the sideslopes were too steep to be considered for wastewater disposal, further restricting the area available. This resulted in dwelling locations being confined to the long ridgelines.

The constraints identified by the onsite sewage feasibility study could result in a development being disbanded due to decreased profits or over investment. This was not the case for this development. While it was determined that properties would require secondary treatment to meet nutrient export requirements, the total number of dwellings was not restricted below what was allowable.

The report prepared for council summarised the critical information for their consideration, and were submitted along with many other planning reports of: bushfire assessment, preliminary contaminated land assessments, preliminary flora and fauna surveys, preliminary surveying plans and designs and town planning applications.


The feasibility of wastewater treatment on rural lots in the Northern Rivers of NSW in closely controlled by Councils to protect environmental and human health.  The feasibility of on-site sewage management needs to be considered early on in the planning process, alongside other site characteristics like bushfire risk, contaminated soils and presence of protected flora and fauna species. Options for on site sewage disposal systems include the EcoCell Septic System and aerated water treatment systems like the Krystel Kleer.

If you would like more information about on-site sewage feasibility assessments, please call our office on (02) 6621 5123 and we will be happy to help.

Lismore Business Breakfast Wrap Up – November 2016

Your Most Valuable Asset: Your Staff

business breakfast lismore chamber of commerce and industry palate at the gallery

How do I manage my employment needs?

As business owners and managers, we are always keeping an eye on the bottom line, making sure we have sufficient cash flow and planning for the future. But there’s something not on your balance sheet, and it’s the most important thing of all – the skills and abilities, an incredible potential of your current staff.


Did you know, that for an employee on $60,000 salary, it will cost you $29,000 in recruitment and training costs? And, if they happen leave within 12 months, you can add an additional $6,000 in annual leave and performance management costs. It makes sense to do everything you can to retain your employees.


There was also discussion today about the major infrastructure projects happening in our region – being the Pacific Highway upgrade and the ongoing Lismore Base Hospital redevelopment. These projects will require thousands of staff and have the potential to bring many families and workers to the area long term.


This has many benefits (to the service area and subcontractors in particular) and may also have some negatives (luring your current civil and technical staff to the major infrastructure projects). It is important to remember that with the ramp up – also comes the ramp down, so keep an eye on your business strategy to ensure you don’t get caught out when the boom ends in a few years’ time. Focus on revenue sources outside the major projects to ensure the long term sustainability of your business and cash flow.


What if I need to replace staff or recruit additional team members?

If you do need to replace staff (even the best employees leave at some point), there are a number of options available to you.

  • Contact North Coast Employment to find long term employees- one contact for the seven major employment providers on the North Coast (including disability employment services)
  • Employ Temporary Staff for 2-3 days or 2-3 weeks – agencies like SilverTemp or Complete Staff Solutions
  • Advertise on Seek – for a $300 fee you will have more applicants than you could possibly imagine, and you can rank and score each applicant to help narrow down who you will interview.

How do I attract more applicants?

Joanne McLaughlin, panelist at today’s breakfast, suggested that you include one sentence in your ads: “Parents returning to work are encouraged to apply”.  We have recently hired our fabulous Accounts & Admin Manager, returning to work following maternity leave, and we can not sing her praises enough. Our new staff member has extensive industry experience in big business and brings a wealth of skills and knowledge to our company.


Another suggestion was to offer ‘Flexible Work Options’ in your job advertisement. Flexible work options are an excellent recruitment AND retention strategy. It is important to establish the parameters of flexible work at the start of the contract, including work hours and working from home arrangements.


The Queensland Government website has some excellent information that will start you on the right track. Flexible does not mean ‘free for all’ so make sure the parameters of your arrangement are clear from the outset.


And finally, make your advertisement interesting and appealing. Have a bit of fun and let your personality shine.

Today’s Business Breakfast Panel

  • Joanne McLaughlin, Human Resources Coordinator, Multitask.
  • Kath Paton, Nortec, representing the North Coast Employment Accord.
  • Jock McNamara, EPIC Assist.


Thank you to the Lismore Chamber of Commerce and Industry for another fantastic event. Sign up to the LCCI newsletter to keep up to date on industry news and to be notified of upcoming events.  Thanks also to Palate at the Gallery for the wonderful breakfast, the mushroom was delectable!


The next LCCI event is ‘Business After Hours’ hosted by ETC (employment, training & community). We will be meeting at the Lismore City Hall on Wednesday November 23, starting at 530pm.


See you there!

Warm Regards,

Stefanie Stanley, Business Manager.


Doors Open SCU

Environment, Science and Engineering @ SCU



Check out the Program here: doors-open-program-guide

Make sure you get along to ‘Doors Open @ SCU‘ next Tuesday 8 November from 4pm.

We are looking forward to ‘Sharks in my Swimming Pool’ and the Lego Robot Club!

See you there!



Ecoteam Success at 2016 Lismore Business Excellence Awards

Manufacturing and Innovation and Workplace safety

Ecoteam was awarded the Manufacturing and Innovation Business of the Year for their industry leadership and championing of innovative and sustainable technologies for environmental challenges. Ecoteam are specialists in wastewater treatment technologies and have designed wastewater treatment systems in regional NSW, Borneo and Papua New Guinea.

Ecoteam also won the Workplace Safety Award sponsored by SafeWork NSW. Ecoteam works in rural and remote locations, and in high risk environments containing asbestos, soil contamination and untreated wastewater. Ecoteam staff all have families to get home to at the end of the day and take safety very seriously. Ecoteam will now go on to compete with other regional finalists in the SafeWork NSW State Awards.

Ecoteam Business Manager, Stefanie Stanley, summed up Ecoteam’s success, “Thank you to the Lismore Chamber of Commerce and Industry and all the event sponsors. It was an excellent night and really gave us the chance to celebrate the achievements of the Lismore business community. Thank you also to our customers, your trust in us is our biggest success.”

Ecoteam Northern Star – published Friday 5 August 2016 (editorial and paid advertisement)

Ecoteam Lismore Echo – published Thursday 4 August 2016 (photo in MP Kevin Hogan’s ‘Comment’ section)

Looking forward to 2017!

Orangutan Enrichment in Borneo

Ornagutan enrichment in borneo

A team of volunteers have made their way to the Samboja Lestari Orangutan Sanctuary in Borneo, Indonesia to help improve the lives of the orangutans. Volunteers from around Australia have been donating their time to work on an enrichment program which spreads knowledge on the best methods for ensuring the happiness of orangutans in the sanctuary. Orangutans are found in lowland and hilly tropical rainforests on the island of Boreno and are listed as endangered due to deforestation. Orangutans are highly intelligent creatures and are one of our closest relatives which share 98% of our DNA.

Orangutans need enrichment

A team of experts from around Australia are working closely with local keepers to provide daily enrichment to the orangutans. Enrichment activities include providing tools, toys and problem solving puzzles. Managing Director of Ecoteam, Lise Bolton, has recently returned from Samboja Lestari. Lise spent her week in the Indonesian rainforest getting to know the orangutans, helping out with enrichment and designing a new wastewater treatment system for the new orangutan enclosures. “The sanctuary is an amazing place deep in the Borneo rainforest. There are a lot dedicated people working at the facility who are really making a difference to the lives and ongoing survival of the orangutans there”.

ornagutan enrichment

Samboja Lestari is home to 200 orangutans and 47 sun bears who are predominantly displaced or orphaned by habitat loss. Borneo Orangutan Survival (BOS) Australia works tirelessly alongside the East Kalimantan Conservation and Natural Resources Authority (BKSDA) to rehabilitate and reintroduce orangutans to safe and secure habitat. The Samboja Lestari sanctuary is also open to visitors who want to see the orangutans and sun bears. Visitors can volunteer their time while staying at the forest ecolodge. The sanctuary is part of a 2000 hectare wildlife area purchased by BOS which has been reforested over the past 10 years. The sanctuary is a haven for wildlife and has a number of orangutan islands where orangutans can get ready for their release back into the wild.

The sanctuary receives both adult and orphaned baby orangutans from around Indonesia. The Orangutan reintroduction project runs several forest schools for the baby orangutans. The project provides a refuge to teach the young orangutans all the skills they need to survive on their own in the wild. Orangutans are given a natural education playground to learn forest skills such as making nests and shelters and also to learn about the foods of the forest.

baby orangutans

Due to ongoing deforestation in Indonesia, the orangutan sanctuary is always growing. Orangutans are very close relatives of humans and easily catch human diseases. The sanctuary is being overwhelmed with more orangutans which are suffering for diseases such as hepatitis B and tuberculosis. Unfortunately these orangutans need to be quarantined and treated to avoid the spread of infection. BOS has built new enclosures which will house these orangutans and ensure their proper care. However more orangutans mean more orangutan poo.

Ecoteam worked with BOS to come up with a solution to treat wastewater from the enclosures. “The enclosures are washed down twice a day to ensure the health of the orangutans and this means a lot of wastewater is generated. We designed an ecological wastewater treatment system which will be simple to operate and maintain into the future” says Lise. The wetland based wastewater treatment system which will harness nature to treat the water. “The system requires no energy and uses gravel and plants to clean the water”.

constructed wetland for wastewater treatment

Ecoteam have donated their services to design and assist with the construction of the system. Ecoteam is an environmental engineering company based in Lismore which provides ecologically based waste solutions, including constructed wetlands for wastewater treatment.   This is the third system Ecoteam have designed in partnership with BOS Australia. The President of BOS Australia and owner of the Macadamia Castle, Tony Gilding, has been helping overseeing the project “We are so delighted with the expertise provided by Ecoteam. Without them this project would not have been possible. They have spent hundreds of hours designing, project managing and supervising construction of these constructed wetlands. All probono. They have deep knowledge of building systems in remote areas of Australia and designing systems that are almost maintenance free. It has been a joy working with them.”

Lise Bolton orangutan enrichment

The wetland based water treatment system was installed in at Samboja Lestari in November 2015. The construction was supervised Tom Bertinshaw who spent a month at the sanctuary assisting with the project. The construction team also includes plumber Nik Hyde who will visit the sanctuary shortly and provide training on how to operate and maintain the system.

To find out more about orangutan survival projects or provide assistance by adopting a baby orangutan or purchasing some rainforest visit Borneo Orangutan Survival Australia

Biochar in Constructed Wetlands

Enhanced Biochar substrate for Phosphorus Removal in Constructed Wetlandsbiochar for phosphorus removal


Phosphorus is an essential nutrient for all forms of life and is one of the three fundamental crop macronutrients. However, excess phosphorus from sewage, animal farms and leached croplands can contaminate waterways causing eutrophication. Reducing these nutrients from wastewater is essential to protect natural ecosystems.

Constructed wetlands are an efficient wastewater treatment device, however their long term phosphorus removal is generally poor. They are typically rectangular beds built with an impermeable liner filled with gravel and aquatic plants. Wastewater is treated as it passes through plant roots.

Adsorption and precipitation reactions are regarded as the primary long-term phosphorus retention mechanisms in constructed wetlands. These processes are highly dependent on the properties of the wetland substrate. Phosphorus removal can be maximised in constructed wetlands with substrates that can be replaced when saturated. Typically, phosphorus is bound in the substrate through reactions with iron, aluminium and calcium. The use of mineral-enhanced sorption substrates can provide a high level of phosphorus retention and recovery from for reuse wastewater.

A mineral-enhanced biochar was tested as a substrate to remove phosphorus from domestic wastewater in a constructed wetland system. The biochar substrate was compared to a commonly used gravel substrate. The study aimed to identify whether a biochar wetland is capable of reducing phosphorus concentrations to less than a typical gravel wetland.

For more information about bicohar, please contact Lise Bolton at Ecoteam ph. (02) 6621 5123 or email

What is GIS and Why Is It Useful?

 Everything You Need to Know to Get Started

What is GIS - Digital Elevation Model

What is GIS?

A Geographical Information System (GIS) is a powerful tool capable of storing, creating and manipulating data to present useful information that would otherwise require extensive physical data collection.


Why is GIS Useful?

GIS software allows you to create maps that show valuable information and store this information in layers to quickly switch between, manipulate and translate this information to more meaningful data.


How Can I Use GIS?

Below is an example of how field surveying can be used in GIS software and manipulated to produce useful information.


The council wants to calculate the storage capacity of a dam. The dam was built a long time ago and is suspected that the floor area has changed shape. One way to survey this underwater area can be a boat using depth sounding and GPS capture. Depth sounding will capture the depth, whilst the GPS will assign a position of the depth in the dam.


By capturing both depth and position data we can start to understand the depth and shape of the dam floor. A significant number of points can be captured, with more data equalling more accurate and better results. This data can then be uploaded into GIS software which will allow the data to be viewed. Importing an aerial image will allow easier viewing of the data point’s physical location. Using the GIS software it is then able to generate a contour model of surface model of the dam floor using built in functions that mathematically extrapolate the data.


Better data means less extrapolation and smaller errors. This model allows visualisation of the dam floor, and council can now determine the capacity of the dam. This example is a simple way in which GIS can be used from collection, through analysis and to generation of information.


Where Do I Get GIS Data?

GIS data can be obtained through field, satellite or aerial surveying. The captured data can be as simple as the raw imagery, to more detailed analyses of attributes such as vegetated areas, lot and property information or elevation data for the area.


A significant amount of information is freely available for viewing by GIS web services available on council and government websites that contain various amounts of information. This information is available through Web Map Server (WMS) links. Connecting Some examples include:


  • Google Maps or Google Earth

    • A combination of aerial and satellite imagery with additional layers showing roads and names, watercourses, localities and certain land use areas. Street address data allows you to search for directions from one location to another, with powerful program tools allowing the selection of a path along roads and the shortest routes possible.


  • NSW Office of Water

    • Provides information on groundwater resource and monitoring bores in NSW


  • NSW Land & Property Information (LPI) SIX maps

    • Provides spatial information such as Lot title, address and boundaries (Cadastral DATA) over aerial images or topographic maps showing water courses, roads and locality boundaries.
    • Utilising your GIS software you can link to the Six Map WMS  files.


  • Spatial Data from the Local Council

    • For example, Lismore City Council provides a large amount of spatial data relating to properties specific to the Local Government Area (LGA). Such uses of this information are determining land use zoning, flood hazard, location of services, contours, soils, terrain, water courses, roads and environmental protection areas to name a few.


  • NSW Planning Portal

    • The Planning Viewer provides public access to the map layers for certain planning maps incorporated by reference in environmental planning instruments made under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979. It is an initiative of the New South Wales Government and is designed to help people better understand map-based planning information. Information available as part of this service includes Land use and land zoning, Riparian lands, Acid sulphate soil risk LGA boundaries and Environmental Conservation areas located within the state.
    • Utilising your GIS software you can link to the NSW Department of Planning & Environment WMS files.


While viewing certain datasets is valuable for most planning purposes, sometimes greater analyses of data is required to produce meaningful mapping results.


What GIS software is appropriate for me?

If you are a professional with GIS experience you will already be familiar with the number of GIS programs out there, but if you are curious about GIS software and what is available, please keep reading.


There are a number of GIS programs available, though most require a significant monetary investment. It is quite expensive if you are simply curious of GIS programs. Well known GIS programs include:


ESRI – Provides a variety of programs namely ArcMap, ArcGIS andArcGIS Server.

MapInfo – Powerful desktop GIS application in the form of Mapinfo Professional

Autodesk – Provides extension applications to their AutoCAD program such as Map 3D, Topobase, and MapGuide.

Getting to know GIS programs and what they are capable of does not have to be expensive. There are many free open source GIS programs available on the market, these include

GRASS GIS – is a software suite used for geospatial data management and analysis, image processing, producing graphics and maps, spatial and temporal modelling, and visualizing.

MapWindow GIS – an application and set of programmable mapping components, adopted by the US EPA as the primary GIS platform for its BASINS (Better Assessment Science Integrating Point and Nonpoint Sources) watershed analysis and modelling software.

QGIS – formerly Quantum GIS, is an open source program allowing users to create maps with many different layers. It integrates with other open source GIS tools such as PostGIS, GRASS and MapServer. It provides users the ability to connect WMS links from such servers as Six Maps and NSW Planning Portal. For instructions visit the Land and Property Information website.


There is a Wikipedia page that provides a list of GIS.


How Does Ecoteam use GIS?


We use GIS for our Land Development and Environmental Planning Services.


We are able to produce digital maps that link coordinates and features captured in the field with aerial imagery and spatial data to clearly portray the desired information.


As part of our environment and planning services, we conduct feasibility studies to determine the suitability of a site for development. By utilising elevation data in combination with topographic, cadastral and watercourse layers we can produce a constraints map that identifies which areas of a site can be developed. The information we are able to display includes:

  • Buffers between ephemeral, intermittent or permanent watercourses.
  • Slope percentage and elevation
  • Ruggedness Index of a location (an indication of how accessible an area can be)
  • Property boundaries and characteristics such as area and perimeter of complex shapes
  • Points of Interest and coordinates downloadable to a handheld GPS device for site verification and ground truthing.
  • Surface water flowpaths and risk to downstream water contamination
  • Proximity to various features or view areas that fulfil a number of requirements.

Final Thoughts

GIS is an incredibly powerful tool. It does take some training time to be able to use the software efficiently. Once you have found the relevant data and developed the necessary skills, you can produce simple and meaningful maps from large amounts of complex data.


GIS can help project stakeholders make informed decisions during the feasibility and planning phase of projects and also inform strategies for future land management.

Biochar: 10 Essential Services for People and Planet

Biochar is a type of charcoal, rich in organic matter.

Biochar is a type of charcoal, rich in organic matter.


It may come as a surprise that making Biochar is not new. In fact, Amazonian Indians used Biochar to produce agricultural soils that are still incredibly fertile, even now – 1,000 years later.

People from all over the world are coming to realise the amazing properties of Biochar and the myriad of things it can be used for. These ‘things’ are big ticket items too, things that can change our world – for the better.

Sustainable and efficient agriculture, climate change mitigation, clean and diverse fuel supplies and wastewater remediation are all critical to our survival and the health of the planet. And Biochar can help. Read on!

What exactly is Biochar and how is it made?

  • Biochar is different from normal charcoal because it is produced differently and has different properties and uses.
  • Biochar is made when organic matter is heated in the absence of oxygen to produce a type of organic, Carbon-rich charcoal.
  • Normal charcoal is made by burning organic matter in an oxygen rich fire. The charcoal and ash produced is inorganic.
  • Biochar is added to soil to improve soil health, remediate contaminated land and remove contaminants from soil water.
  • Normal charcoal is used as fuel for heating, in the iron making process and as a colouring agent in industry and arts




Home Pyrolysis Kiln for making Biochar

Small Pyrolysis Kiln for making Biochar

Biochar for Sustainable & Efficient Agriculture: Application to the Soil

  1. Sustainably improves soil health – Biochar reduces soil acidity, provides habitat for beneficial soil microbes and enhances the ability of the soil to retain moisture.
  2. Improves soil productivity resulting in enhanced crop yields. Productivity increases are dependent on the in situ soil type, the crop being grown (e.g. wheat, rice, corn) and the type of biomass used to produce the Biochar (e.g. municipal green waste versus paper mill waste).
  3. Increases economic efficiency and food security – rapid return on investment in Biochar and more ‘food per unit of energy input’. Some aspects of the soil application process need to be managed for safe and effective use including potential combustion risk and the dustiness of the substance.
  4. Decreases impact of current agricultural practices (e.g. pesticide and fertiliser runoff) on surrounding ecosystems. Better soil and water management lead to sustainable land use systems.

 Biochar for Climate Change Mitigation

  1. Capturing atmospheric carbon dioxide in the soil and slowing the return of carbon from plants to the atmosphere reduces the impacts of human-induced climate change. Deforestation and burning fossil fuels are in contrast to the Earth’s mechanisms for storing carbon (i.e. storing it in plants and in the soil). Biochar production is one way to reverse human impacts on the climate and increase our ability to remove carbon dioxide from the air and return carbon to where it came from!

 Biochar for Energy Security: Diverse and Clean Fuel Supplies

  1. By-products (like gas) from the Biochar production process can be used to generate electricity – reducing reliance on fossil fuels. Capturing and using energy from Biochar production is more efficient than burning wood or other biomass like dried animal dung. Indoor smoke pollution is also reduced. This has positive implications for people in countries where burning biomass is the primary energy source.

 Biochar for Soil, Water & Waste Remediation

  1. Biochar assists in the remediation of contaminated land and soil by stimulating plant growth and providing surface organic matter (similar to leaf litter) as part of revegetation projects.
  2. Biochar filters nutrients like phosphate and ammonia from wastewater as it moves overland and/or down through the soil profile. This makes Biochar useful in stormwater wetlands and wastewater wetlands that treat sewage effluent. Biochar can also filter pesticides used in agriculture. Nutrient and pesticide removal occur by a process called ‘adsorption’.
  3. Animal and crop wastes can be turned into a resource. Effectively dealing with waste products reduces the potential risk of polluting surface water bodies and groundwater aquifers. At the community scale, gardening waste and food scraps can also be turned into Biochar.
  4. Processing food and animal wastes by converting them to Biochar reduces methane emissions that would be produced by sending them to landfill (methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide).

Biochar under an Electron Microscope has a honeycomb like appearance.

Well, that was all very interesting, don’t you think? I am always amazed when I discover a new technology or process that has many practical applications. To find out it has been around for many, many generations doesn’t necessarily make me smack my forehead in exasperation. It makes me think that humanity is on the right track.

If you have any technical questions, please contact Lise Bolton, Director and Engineer here at Ecoteam. You can contact Lise by email or phone (02) 6621 5123. Lise has just completed a 9 month trial using Biochar in wetlands and is writing up the results as I type!

I will be writing more blog posts on this fascinating substance in the coming months (including more info on the production process, characteristics, economics, soil application, commercialisation and policy and planning considerations) so stay tuned.

Our next featured blog post will be about the Jubullum Village Sewage Treatment System, a project we have been working on with the local Aboriginal community.

‘Til next time, all the best.

Stefanie Stanley, Business and Major Projects Manager at Ecoteam


Jubullum Village Sewage Management System: Part 2

Ecoteam manages the water resources at Jubullum Village, including the Drinking Water and Sewage Wastewater. This blog explains what happens to the Sewerage Wastewater generated from the village and the Sewage Management processes involved. Part 1 of the blog (published here) explains the primary treatment process for the sewage (from household to removal of solids). Part 2 of the blog (this blog) – explains the secondary treatment process (treatment in constructed wetlands and irrigation onto an orchard).

Sewage water is often referred to as ‘Wastewater’. At Ecoteam we like to refer to it as Resource Water because once it is treated it can then be reused for irrigation. Reusing treated sewage water for irrigation helps to ease pressure on our finite Drinking Water Resources.

Derek Torrens, a well-respected indigenous community member, is part of Ecoteam and manages the operation and maintenance of the water resources for the village.

Jubullum Village consists of approx. 50 homes with a population of about 200 residents and is situated west of the township of Tabulam in Northern NSW at 28°53’38.71’’S 152°31’42.37’’E.

The Treatment Train (continued!)

Constructed Wetlands

The constructed treatment wetlands are comprised of two paired cells in parallel that include an open water component and gravel filled sub-surface horizontal flow component. Effluent is discharged from the manifold via 40mm adjustable inlet risers.

Jubullum Constructed Wetland Cells - Sewage Management system

Constructed Wetland Cells

The wetlands are planted out with four wetland reed species, Frogs Mouth spp. Philidrum lanuginosum, Jointed Twig Rush spp. Baumeaarticulata, River Club Rush spp. Schoenoplectusvalidus, and Sea Rush spp. Juncuskraussi.

In nature, wetlands are the kidneys of the earth removing pollutants from the water cycle and transpiring much of the water back into the atmosphere. The wetland plants help to treat the resource water. Colonies of micro-organisms known as biofilm grow around the roots of the plants and remove pollutant nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous as well as pathogen containing bacteria such as E.coli

Chlorine disinfection system

Once the wetland plants have treated the resource water to a secondary level, the water flows through a Chlorine disinfection system. This simple system kills any pathogen containing bacteria that may have made it through the wetlands.   

Jubullum Passive Chlorine Dosing System Sewage Management system

Passive Chlorine Dosing System


Distribution Box Jubullum Splitter Four Way Sewage Management system

Four Way Distribution Box

Dosing tanks and siphons

The flow is then split into 4 dosing tanks; within each dosing tank is a dosing siphon.

Four storage tanks for treated effluent, pasively pumped to irrigate Orchard Sewage Management system

Dosing tanks – treated effluent is passively pumped to irrigate the orchard

A dosing siphon is like a pump but it has no moving parts and requires no energy input to operate. This passive device utilises natural hydrostatic air pressure to allow one large burst (dose) of water to leave the tank and distribute itself evenly throughout its effluent reuse area. This promotes the efficiency and longevity of the system.

Sub surface irrigation system

The water from the dosing tanks is irrigated through sub-surface irrigation onto the roots of citrus trees in the fruit orchard. Each dosing tank has its own part of the subsurface irrigation field that it irrigates.

Jubullum Orchard Sewage Management system

Effluent disposal area – to orchard

The fruit from the orchard is harvested when it is ripe and distributed to community members. The Jubullum Sewage Management system is a prime example of how to turn waste into resources.

By treating water using wetland based treatment systems, you provide a low cost, high performance, low maintenance and environmentally sustainable solution to managing waste and creating a resource.

By using gravity you can employ less pumps, and by using non mechanical treatment methods (wetlands) you reduce your power input, which lowers your energy consumption, which saves money, and lowers your carbon footprint – which equals sustainability.

Aaron Taylor, Operations Manager, Ecoteam.

For more information please contact Aaron Taylor our Senior Operations Manager (Water and Sewerage) here at Ecoteam. You can call the office on (02) 6621 5123 or email if you have any questions for Aaron.

If you need help or advice on managing your On Site Sewage System, Ecoteam can help. We provide design and construction services, as well as condition assessments, system operation and maintenance for all sewage treatment systems – great and small.

And remember – your sewage is a resource!

Our next blog will is about Biochar and it’s role in Environmental Management.




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