[Updated] Australian Government Funds Live Export Dehumidifier Trial

Credit: LiveCorp

Published Jul 15, 2019 6:33 PM by The Maritime Executive

Data captured during a dehumidification trial on a livestock export vessel is now being analyzed to help to determine whether the technology has commercial potential as a heat stress mitigation tool for Australia's live export industry.

The live export industry’s research and development body, LiveCorp, carried out the static trial, mooring an empty ship in Dubai for a week while dehumidification units set up on the wharf pumped modified air into several decks at different rates.

The trial was timed for the Middle East summer to test the technology under conditions that the industry is currently banned from shipping sheep - from Australia's winter to the Middle East summer.

The technology trial is part of an on-going response to whistle-blower footage aired on 60 Minutes in April 2018 which showed thousands of sheep suffering severe heat stress; sheep caked in melted feces and urine; injured and sick animals left to die slowly; decomposed bodies left in pens with living sheep and pregnant ewes giving birth and their lambs dying. 

The dehumidification trial is funded through an Australian Government grant of A$2.2 million ($1.5 million).

Dehumidification units are already commonly used in industries such as deep mining and have even modified the air around a lighthouse to allow a fresh coat of paint to dry. However, LiveCorp Chief Executive Officer Sam Brown says a livestock vessel is a unique environment, and there is no guarantee of success.

Brown said specialists in thermodynamics and other experts in experimental design assisted in the trial. The sensors installed for the trial measured temperature, humidity and volatile gases like ammonia and methane.

“It has taken more than 12 months to get to this stage, after getting exporters around the table to discuss exactly what problem we needed to solve and then putting out a global call for agtech start-ups and innovators in other industries to put forward solutions,” Brown said. “We are confident in the rigor of our process, and even if we don’t get the answer we’re hoping for, the analysis being done will guide further research on how best to manage heat stress on livestock vessels.”

If the static trial proves successful, another trial will be planned with the equipment installed on a ship for a commercial voyage with livestock on board.

However, the professional veterinarian association Vets Against Live Export says: “The project ignores the end destination conditions that exported livestock will face when they are unloaded from any potentially “dehumidified” ship. It is a waste of $2.2 million that would have been better spent helping primary producers finding alternative markets for mutton (noting the current high prices at the moment for both lamb and mutton).

The government's Draft Report by the Independent Heat Stress Risk Assessment Technical Reference Panel released in December 2018, states: “How might multiple discharge ports be taken into account when assessing heat stress risk?

“It cannot be assumed that exported sheep will be subject to respite from high heat when unloaded at their destinations, and as such, the issue of heat load at destination ports must be considered in this process. There is no point in managing animals adequately on a ship to then unload and leave them in an environment which imposes greater heat challenges. Weather data for Middle Eastern destination markets shows that the hot and humid regions, particularly during their summer, will have some periods when the environment is extreme, and above the heat stress threshold for prolonged periods.”

Recommendation 6 is as follows: “Care for sheep welfare should extend beyond the voyage period. Therefore it is recommended that the environmental conditions that sheep may be exposed to at their destinations in the Middle East be considered in the risk assessment process.”