The Sugar Cane Technologists Conference has almost wrapped up, with potential partnerships between the Australian sugar industry and the bio-energy sector a hot topic.
Moving from one presentation to another, the words on everyone’s lips were “renewable energy” and just how the sugar industry can play a role in its development.
An entire morning was dedicated to talks from businesses, researchers and sugar industry representatives on developing partnerships between sugar and bio-energy.
Ian O’Hara is a principal research fellow with the Queensland University of Technology.
Some time this year he will begin three-year trials in Queensland and New South Wales to test the replacement of diesel with biomethane, using sugarcane waste.
The trial sites will be in Brisbane, Mackay and Broadwater, in New South Wales.
“What we are doing is finding a way to replace diesel fuels and those can be used back in the sugar industry,” Mr O’Hara said.
“The particular work we are doing at the moment is actually producing biomethane from sugarcane residues and using that biomethane in diesel engines in farm machinery or locomotives.”
Rice waste has potential too
Indian bio-energy company, Praj, was also interested in building relationships with local sugar millers.
Executive vice-president Yash Mankame was not so interested in the sugar, but wanted to use Australian rice husks — a waste product — for biofuel production.
In Australia the husks are not worth very much, and are used for animal bedding, but in India the husks are already used for power generation.
While the Australian rice industry — based primarily in Queensland and New South Wales — is relatively small, Mr Mankame said that was of no concern.
“Basically what we are looking at is waste to energy, so this could be rice waste which would work like sugarcane waste, where the material in rice waste can be converted into ethanol,” he said.
Rice husks are highly sensitive and cannot be transported very far; therefore processing plants would need to be built beside the Queensland and New South Wales mills.
Despite the infrastructure and logistical barriers, Mr Mankame said he was confident a partnership would be forged between Indian and Australian rice companies.
“The Australian rice industry is a growing industry and the more value-adding you can have to rice production, the better revenues there are,” he said.
Australia Lags behind in bio-energy development
Mackay Sugar’s general manager of milling operations Terry Doolan believed Australia still had a lot of catching up to do with the rest of the world, especially in terms of bio-ethanol.
He said countries such as America and Brazil were much further ahead in the industry.
“Australia is way behind the times with ethanol production,” Mr Doolan said.
“America is huge in bio-products, particularly ethanol … they are producing somewhere in the vicinity of 500 million litres a year and they want to get a lot more than that.
“I think it just opens our eyes to where we could go.”
He hoped the ethanol mandate, to be introduced next year, would benefit the growth of the bio-energy industry, both locally and nationally.
Source – ABC