The Merredin Spirulina plant, developed by Except in the year 2000, is one of the first projects in which we applied systems thinking and our holistic, systemic approach to innovation, using ecology as a main component.
The result is a highly unusual but stunningly effective business case for a sustainable, ecological industry to revive a desert town in Australia.
Systems analysis as a hero
The existing measures for resolving the town’s problems were inadequate. Industries and businesses were leaving the town, leaving it stripped for jobs, resources and motivation. With such a complex network of interrelated issues, Except decided to use systems analysis methods to unravel the issues, and find more holistic and fundamental solutions to the town’s problems. And it certainly worked…
The physical parameters of the area were mapped, including climate, land use, available resources such as waste and natural sources. The social situation was intensively mapped, including availability of labour, skillsets, demography, culture and the dreams and desires of the people living there, including the children. Then, the ecological and economical flows were mapped to round off the system analysis.
Finding symbiotic solutions
Except then started looking for gaps to connect some of the available but unused resources to the desires and demands of the town. By cross-pollinating these needs and resources, Except found a myriad of possible solutions for the town. They then narrowed them down to the most promising ones.
One solution, while unusual and unexpected, popped out as a potentially amazing solution to reconnect all these issues in a long-term and economically strong way. It came out of our research into using ecology as a driver of added value, and the result was the possibility of a specific algae type to grow in the saline ground water of the region. This ecological solution, coupled with the solidity of the health foods industry, fitted perfectly within the existing framework of the town.
The spirulina plant
After considering a plethora of options, the Spirulina Plant has been chosen because of a number of reasons, of which most importantly the suitability to the climate, its ability to solve multiple problems at once and its economical strength.
Spirulina has been cultivated very successfully for quite some time now. It’s high price, and the willingness of consumers to pay this price makes it an excellent industry for economically depressed areas. Successful operations have already been conducted in declining South African towns which are now thriving.
The manufacturing process requires little additives and is straightforward, and Merredin’s location on the highway between Perth and Sydney is ideal. Spirulina farming is a highly profitable and very ecologically friendly enterprise. Spirulina is used for a myriad of applications, but can be consumed pure as well, which is the main target of the plant, and yields the highest profit. The market for spirulina is growing rapidly and is already substantial.
A business case was drawn up, and it quickly showed them that it would be economically feasible, provide plenty of jobs to the town, hook into existing infrastructure and would only use resources which were abundant in town. The plant would be able to return on its investment within 5 years of operation, with a large safety margin for error.