SWEET MEETING: Stephen Cutting - digital practice manager at Aureco, Larissa Rose - managing director at QRFA, Heng Ho Weng (QUT) - plant manager at Mackay Renewables Bicommodities Pilot Plant, Kevin Weiss - chief executive officer at Byogy Renewables and Julieanne Gilbert - Member for Mackay
SWEET MEETING: Stephen Cutting - digital practice manager at Aureco, Larissa Rose - managing director at QRFA, Heng Ho Weng (QUT) - plant manager at Mackay Renewables Bicommodities Pilot Plant, Kevin Weiss - chief executive officer at Byogy Renewables and Julieanne Gilbert - Member for Mackay Heidi Petith

Cane royalty talk biofuel riches in Mackay

INDUSTRY leaders, growers, millers and government members have agreed Mackay is primed to capitalise on the trillion-dollar bio-renewables market.

At a Queensland Renewable Fuels Association meeting in Mackay last week, managing director Larissa Rose said investors wanted biorefineries in Mackay but policy initiatives would give them more confidence.

"Everyone is sort of standing back and looking in," Ms Rose said.

"A lot of that has been about the capital investment to put into producing biofuels."

Southern Oil's director of corporate and regulatory affairs, Troy Collins, said Queensland's policy frameworks helped form its choice to invest in the state.

"We've now progressed down a pathway of $24 million dollars for Australia's first advanced biofuels pilot plant where we're looking at taking a variety of waste feed stocks and processing them into renewable crude," Mr Collins said.

Another company impressed with Queensland policy is potential-investor, California-based Byogy Renewables.

Byogychief executive officer Kevin Weiss, who was on his fourth business visit to Queensland, and third to Mackay, said Queensland was leaps ahead of most places in the world.

"Queensland is doing a valiant effort of pushing an agenda to promote biofuels," Mr Weiss said.

Bio-renewables a matter of national security

Mackay Regional Council Mayor Greg Williamson said the renewable fuels meeting was about reducing the heavy reliance on fossil fuels, not climate change.

"The 2006 International Energy World Outlook report told us that the rising oil demand in the world, if left unchecked, would deliver first-world countries like ours an untenable vulnerability to supply disruption and price shocks that would probably unseat governments," Cr Williamson said.

He said Australia had only three weeks of fuel reserves and Mr Weiss said that was in his opinion, unacceptable.

Australia imports nearly 90 per cent of its petroleum products, according to QRFA.

Last year the Queensland Government introduced a mandate requiring liable fuel stations to sell at least four per cent E10 biofuel, a decade after NSW established biofuel mandates.

Member for Mackay Julieanne Gilbert said the government set low mandates because if Australia had to import, it would open the floodgates.

"One in five passenger vehicles are now using E10," Mrs Gilbert said.

"It's the equivalent of taking 30,000 cars off the road in terms of our pollution and our sulphate."

Member for Hinchinbrook Nicholas Dametto echoed the sentiment of many present when he voiced concerns about the enduring stigma of E10 biofuels.

Mr Dametto suggested getting rid of 91 unleaded completely to give E10 a chance.

Aurecon's digital practice manager Stephen Cutting said E10 struggled against negative public perception influenced by the crude oil giants.

Sugar Research Institute's general manager David Green suggested more education was needed to dispel the public's fear.

"Just look at what happened when we went to unleaded fuel from leaded fuel," Mr Green said.

"Even though people wanted to do things for the environment, there was still a big distrust."

More than just the ethanol

Biofuel is not the only bio-renewable on the cards for the state's sugar cane. Mr Green said mills wanted to broaden their product range.

"For years and years, all they processed was sugar," he said.

"What the industry is looking for is the next level.

"What's after ethanol? What's the next level of product?"

State Government reports show Queensland's annual totals of sugar cane bagasse and trash each total five mega-tonnes

Other agricultural waste products including for example sweet sorghum, cotton trash, woodchips, banana trunks, algae and agaves can become "feedstock", inputs that can be transformed into bioproducts or bio-renewables.

Mr Cutting said: "There's also biochemicals ... includes things like pharmaceuticals and cleaners ... then you've got bioplastics, so they're sort of everything from biodegradable plastic cups and plates ... then there's biogas: you can create methane basically from any organic solids."

He said Australia should seize the opportunity to provide the bioproducts that mega corporations such as Nestle and Coca-Cola Amatil were looking for before they turned towards Korea or Brazil or elsewhere.

International interest in Queensland

Queensland's enthusiasm may be starting to pay off.

Mrs Gilbert said the government had been working closely through issues with American bio-renewable company, Mercurius Biorefining, for years.

"We've done everything we can to entice them out of NSW," she said.

The Daily Mercury previously reported that Mercurius' president and chief executive officer, Karl Seck, had confirmed investing in Queensland.

"About a year ago, we moved our final stages of our research and development from the US to Queensland," Mr Seck said.

"We're really glad we did ... we're there to stay.

"We hope to build commercial plants and develop our technology in Queensland."

Mrs Gilbert said Mackay had been earmarked as a possible processing site.

US-based Gevo Inc chief executive officer, Pat Gruber, said his company was undertaking a project to supply renewable, low-carbon jet fuel in Queensland in partnership with the State Government and in conjunction with Virgin Australia.

"Queensland has great potential for renewable resource based raw materials," Mr Gruber said.

"It's huge. I've travelled all over the world, I've seen a lot of places.

"Very few, if any, had the amount of raw material available as does Queensland.

"It's something that needs to be harnessed and commercialised.

Virgin recently identified biomass-produced fuel as the "single largest opportunity" to reduce its emissions and is trialling bio-jet fuel at the Brisbane airport.

Upping the ante

But cane farmers want the government to up the ante.

Canegrowers Mackay chairman Kevin Borg said growers were excited but they had been talking about it for a long time.

"We need government to make up their mind whether they're going to go ahead or not," he said.

Mr Borg, who owns a 90-hectare cane farm, has been a long-term supporter of ethanol having run E10 in all of his cars since it came on the market.

"You can't have a renewable fuel industry without having an agricultural industry," he said.

The bio-renewables direction could revitalise cane farming although Mr Borg said there was no shortage of young farmers, with some even giving up mining for a life on the land.


Two years ago, Mackay was listed as one of nine potential sites for projects totalling more than $1 billion under the state government's Biofutures Roadmap.