Australian research looks for ways to use sugar cane waste as feed

With the aims to reduce feeding costs and make better use of untapped agricultural waste materials, researchers in Queensland, Australia, are looking to make better use of sugar cane bagasse as a feed ingredient for poultry and livestock.

sugar cane fields, culture tropical and planetary stake on bioca
sugar cane fields, culture tropical and planetary stake on biocarburant

With the aims to reduce feeding costs and make better use of untapped agricultural waste materials, researchers in Queensland, Australia, are looking to make better use of sugar cane bagasse as a feed ingredient for poultry and livestock.

The residue left after the stems have been crushed to extract the sugar, sugar cane bagasse is among the most abundant agricultural waste materials in the world, according to the Queensland University of Technology (QUT).

In Australia, some of the bagasse is burned to generate electricity for the mill or for the power grid, but scientists have been looking for alternative uses of this material, reports the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). Among these is as a livestock feed ingredient.

Growing and processing sugar cane requires “a lot of energy,” and generates a great deal of waste. One mill alone can produce 1,800 metric tons of the fibrous waste daily.

According to QUT researcher Dr. Mark Harrison, sugar mills already produce molasses, which is fed to cattle in other countries where sugar cane is grown.

“Bagasse is another opportunity to have the sugar cane industry supply ingredients for cattle feed,” he said.

However, to be a useful feed ingredient for poultry and pigs, the fiber content needs to be broken down to make the nutrient content more digestible.

At the QUT Mackay Renewable Biocommodities pilot plant, researchers have been subjecting the bagasse to different amounts of heat and pressure. Even when applied for a short period, these have the effect of bursting open the fibers, making more of the nutrients available for ethanol production, for example.

With the view to making Australia’s growing livestock and poultry sectors more sustainable, and to boost the value of low-grade crop wastes for sugar cane growers, the researchers are now looking at the potential of bagasse for animal feed.

Led by Professor Robert Speight, scientists at QUT’s Brisbane lab have been investigating the microbial content of sugar cane waste.

Their goal is to support the activity of naturally occurring probiotic species and the enzymes they produce to make bagasse more digestible.

“What we want to do is add the probiotics or the enzyme supplements into that so that they start to grow at a faster rate, so that means they’re more productive animals for the farmers, and more profitable,” said Speight.

The next and crucial stage in the research program is large-scale animal feeding trials using the improved bagasse.

QUT is also seeking to identify other potential uses for bagasse. For example, this year, it announced the start of a testing program using technology developed by U.S. company Mercurius Biorefining to convert the biomass into jet and diesel fuels.

The University is also investigating the waste material as a source of probiotics (Bacillus strains), enzymes, and other entities with potential for industrial microbiology as well as animal feed applications.

Deepening drought in Australia has been forcing livestock farmers to investigate a wider range of ingredients to feed their animals. Orange peel and cotton seed are among the feedstuffs being considered in New South Wales, according to another recent ABC report, as transportation costs are proving to be prohibitive for cattle and sheep farmers who are running out of hay and silage.

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