The sugarcane industry received a boost this week following the announcement that MSF Sugar has been awarded $250,000 in State Government Funding to continue its research into the viability of producing bioethanol and green electricity from Agave.
The grant has been funded out of the Advance Queensland $5 million Biofutures Commercialisation Program, which sets out to increase the capability and scale of the biofutures industry in Queensland.
Biofutures refers to the sector that manufactures products from sustainable organic resources as an alternative to fossil fuels.
Still in its infancy, the industry requires substantial research investment to identify innovative technologies capable of converting sustainable crops into usable products and once at commercial scale, has the potential to transform the Queensland economy.
The Biofutures grant recognises that MSF Sugar is at the forefront of the move towards a bioproducts future in Far North Queensland.
The company is researching innovative ways to develop year-round production of bioethanol, a fuel that is widely used as a petrol substitute in road transport vehicles, and year-round production of green-powered electricity to export into the Queensland energy grid.
To turn its facilities into year-round, high-value operations, MSF Sugar is investigating the role that the Agave crop can play in extending bioethanol and green electricity production. While the Agave plant is traditionally used in Mexico to produce the beverage tequila, the same sugars can also be converted into biofuels while the fibre of plant can be processed to generate green electricity.
While MSF Sugar’s Agave project is currently in pilot production stage, its innovative nature is behind the State Government’s Funding decision.
In announcing the funds from the 2017 BIO International Convention where she is leading a delegation of Queensland business and research leaders, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said “Importantly, this will use marginal cane land and aim to give sugarcane factories the opportunity to have year-round production, producing bioethanol in the sugarcane off-season”.
“This means seasonal jobs could now become year-long jobs.”
Minister for Innovation, Science and the Digital Economy Leeanne Enoch said “The aim of this particular project is to demonstrate bioethanol production from agave at pilot scale and establish the feasibility of an integrated sugarcane and agave bioindustrial project at the Tableland Sugar Mill”.
“The project will look at field-scale agave cultivation on non-irrigated lands on the Atherton Tablelands.”
The company’s commitment to the project was reinforced last week with MSF Sugar’s General Manager Business Development, Hywel Cook, and General Manager Agriculture, Trevor Crook, visiting Mexico to tour Agave processing facilities, farms, and research and university project teams.
During the trip, Mr Cook and Mr Crook initiated collaboration between Australia and Mexico, spending time with the Tequila Regulatory Council, Consejo Regulador del Tequila, the body tasked with promoting the culture and quality of the tequila beverage as a symbol of Mexico’s national identity.
Speaking from Mexico on Friday Mr Cook stated that “The growing of Agave needs to be validated for Australian conditions but initial indications are that it is low risk, with many opportunities for improvement.”
The MSF Sugar initiative is one of six projects to be funded under the Advance Queensland Biofutures Commercialisation Program, which aims to put Queensland at the forefront of the global bioindustrial revolution.
In addition to travelling through Mexico, Mr Cook attended the 2017 BIO International Convention San Diego this week where he engaged in roundtable discussions with Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, and other Queensland business and research leaders, to explore additional opportunities for the bioindustry.