The world’s largest natural source of amorphous silica is owned by Agripower in Queensland, Australia.This innovative product rich in plant available silicon (PAS) is used in agriculture, horticulture, viticulture and organic agriculture and is currently the only certified organic fertiliser for use in Australia, United States, the European Union and India. It is a product that also helps sequester carbon in the environment through silica’s natural capabilities and produces no carbon emissions when applied to farming soil. It is unlike anything else in the world.
By 2050, the world’s population will be around 9.7 billion. This will call for smarter, increased production of food which is of higher quality. As global demand for organic and environmentally sustainable produce increases, the challenge for agriculture industry is to cost effectively increase production without compromising the organic integrity of crops.
Agripower’s PAS has been proven to reduce the use of chemical fertilisers, increase crop yield and help protect the environment, especially sensitive environments such as the Great Barrier Reef. Agripower’s manufacturing facility at Charters Towers in Queensland is at the heart of this innovative product getting to the world and Siemens technology is the backbone of this facility.
Siemens, together with AP Automation have equipped Agripower with cutting-edge technology that enables them to produce this innovative product. The process plant is designed to produce 240,000 tonnes per year and Agripower expects to produce one million tonnes per year at full capacity in future. With enough amorphous silica to extract for the next 200 years, the technology used at the facility is critical for the future growth of the company.
Agripower was founded in 2000 by Peter Prentice, the now managing director of the company. He and his team were searching for amorphous silica deposits in North Queensland when they came across the largest deposit in the world in Townsville. They quickly realised that this was no ordinary find and within five years and after testing the product extensively, discovered the many benefits it delivered to industry, community, environment and the future of agriculture.
The amorphous silica is used in agriculture as a silica fertiliser. Agripower found that their product was three to four times higher in plant available silica than any other product in the marketplace. This means that more of the fertiliser is retained and utilised by plants and soils. The result is stronger, healthier crops with higher yields and longer shelf life of products.
Agripower has hundreds of trials on various crops across China, Brazil, Russia, United States, Morocco and many other countries.
Totally integrated automation
Agripower’s plant utilises almost all the offerings from Siemens’ Digital Industries portfolio. From programmable logic controllers (PLC’s), SIMATIC and SCADA systems to all the networking, variable speed drives, motor control, sensing and measurement devices and control devices, Siemens technology forms a crucial part of Agripower’s production facility. Most importantly, the site is completely scalable, enabling Agripower to increase production over the years and decades to come.
“What it means for Agripower is that they have a truly seamless integration between all the equipment. It means their data isn’t in silos and they can make full use of it for plant operations to run as efficiently as possible,” says Blake Gordon, Country Business Unit Head at Siemens Australia and New Zealand.
Agripower is a great showcase of the customer benefits of Siemens’ Totally Integrated Automation (TIA) solution. It allows seamless connection of devices and high diagnostic coverage on a single network and is the backbone to harnessing high-value data used at Agripower’s. With the power of TIA Portal and the ease of connectivity of Profinet, multiple vendors can come together from Australia and globally in a connected plant unified and work together as one complete solution.Justin Farrell, Area Sales Manager, Siemens Australia and New Zealand
AP Automation, a Siemens solution partner, was the main integrator of the technology. AP automation used software products such as PLC SIM Advanced, allowing them to simulate most of the automation before it went on the site. This meant that integration could be ensured, and everything was operating fault free before the plant was even built. Through simulation, the commissioning and project times were drastically reduced, making the production facility set up highly efficient and cost effective.
PLC Sim Advanced is a fully integrated, cost effective add on for TIA Portal ensuring seamless access to the PLC code and 100% accurate editing.
“One of the key features of this project was being able to have a simulation model that the customer could see prior to the plant build. This simulation model was then altered based on their expectations of realistic delivery,” says Andrew Phan, Managing Director of AP Automation. “It’s bridging the gap between expectation and what we deliver as an end product.”
One of the key process benefits that Agripower can expect by using simulation and automation is consistency in product. As a natural product taken from the earth, the content, density and moisture of amorphous silica can vary. Siemens technology enables Agripower to adapt the functions of the plan to cope with these variants.
What’s really exciting for us is that our technology plays a crucial part in the ability of an Australian-based company with an innovative product to export globally. Agripower is helping communities around the world improve their agricultural results.Blake Gordon, Country Business Unit Head at Siemens Australia and New Zealand
Looking to the future: Scalability
Technology has enabled Agripower to go from pilot plant to full production capacity seamlessly and they’re now looking at the next step: scaling up existing production to suit global demand for amorphous silica. Simulation enables Agripower to duplicate current setup while maintaining plant flexibility and reliability.
“Having the right technology backbone in this plant in means that Agripower can basically take that same technology and just bolt onto future plants and maintain that same openness and benefits that they get here,” Blake Gordon, Country Business Unit Head at Siemens Australia and New Zealand.
Environmental, social and corporate governance for a better, healthier planet
Environmental social and corporate governance (ESG) refers to the central factors that measure the sustainability and social impact of a company or business. In the area of environmental governance, Agripower are seen to be contributing positively in fighting climate change and increasing sustainability of agriculture. The high content of PAS in Agripower’s fertilisers allows the products to easily meet ESG requirements.
Agripower’s product also has a secondary benefit – carbon sequestration. The more the product is used, the more carbon dioxide is pulled out of the atmosphere. The high silica content of the fertiliser allows plants and soils to retain carbon at a much higher rate than any other form of growing. The product is helping to control the world's greenhouse gas emissions. Through its fertiliser products, Agripower continues to meet all the ESG requirements being introduced by the governments of the United Nations.
We’re a safe product. It's human safe, it's plant safe, it's environment safe, it’s soil safe. But it's giving the farmer an increased benefit. It's giving them an economic increased benefit and to the environment it's a safer product to use, it’s a better product to use and it's controlling and limiting greenhouse gases emissions and carbon sequestration.Peter Prentice, Managing Director, Agripower