QUEENSLAND’S $2 billion sugar industry is grappling with a bittersweet push to convert biomass into “clean, green electricity”.
North Queensland Bio-Energy chairman Robert Carey is in negotiations with overseas investors to build a $550 million super mill and baseload power station at Ingham, in the heart of cane-growing country, north of Townsville.
“This project is absolutely transformative for not only Ingham and other sugar towns, but the whole industry itself,’’ he said.
“It’s the future. Clean, green, renewable energy produced from plants to power the north into the new era of innovation. But the bittersweet question is if canegrowers are ready for change.”
NQBE launched the project in 2009 and won “state significant project” status from the Queensland Government but has faced delays with financiers concerned about if the sugar industry is investment ready.
Mr Carey said foreign-owned sugar mills opposed the groundbreaking project because it was a direct competitive threat.
“Most of these old mills – some of them are over 100 years old – are dinosaurs,” he said.
“The only way to improve them is to bring in the bulldozers and knock them down. Our other challenge is to convince older generations of cane farmers that it is time to diversify.”
He said the “state-of-the-art” facility, the first of its kind in Australia, would produce about 335,000 tonnes of sugar a year, between 90,000 and 250,000 litres of ethanol a day and between 110 — 115 MW of renewable “green” power.
It is hoped the ethanol mandate, to be introduced next year, would benefit the growth of the bio-energy industry, both locally and nationally.
Countries like America and Brazil are rapidly expanding into bio-products, particularly ethanol, with the US producing about 500 million litres a year.
Plans for a $564m biofuel plant at Pentland, Charters Towers, are reportedly on track for construction to begin in August.
The Renewable Developments Australia project, financed by NAB and other private investors, involves the farming of sugarcane and sorghum on 19,100ha of land near Pentland.
At Gladstone, a $16 million pilot biofuel project has also been slated at the Southern Oil Refining Yarwun plant.
Source – CourierMail