A groundbreaking trial in North Queensland will see agave plants producing renewable energy and biofuels as part of MSF Sugar’s $60 million biorefinery project.
Minister for State Development, Manufacturing, Infrastructure and Planning Cameron Dick joined Member for Cook Cynthia Lui and MSF Sugar CEO Mike Barry this week to inspect the MSF Sugar’s first crop of more than 3500 agave plants at Arriga.
“Commencement of MSF Sugar’s agave trial is a major milestone in the company’s journey to develop its biorefinery complex,” Mr Dick said.
“Once operational, MSF Sugar’s proposed biorefinery complex will be a world-first initiative that will see the company produce sugar, renewable baseload electricity and ethanol biofuels from one location, using locally-grown sugarcane fibre and potentially agave, a succulent plant native to Mexico and South America.”
Mr Dick said the benefits of developing a large-scale agave cropping industry in the Far North were significant, for residents and local farmers.
“Using both agave and sugarcane fibre as feedstock for the biorefinery and green electricity plant means both facilities can operate all year around rather than just nine months, which overcomes sugarcane’s seasonal nature,” Mr Dick said.
“Agave needs little irrigation and grows well in low-grade agricultural land, so the potential future income diversification opportunities for local farmers are considerable.”
Mr Dick said that MSF Sugar has advised that its biorefinery complex was expected to generate 80 construction and farming jobs and a further 50 operational jobs.
“Powered by an onsite bagasse and potentially agave-fuelled 24MW Green Power Station, the MSF Sugar combined biorefinery complex is expected to produce 110,000 tonnes of raw sugar, green electricity for the grid and 55 million litres of ethanol biofuel annually,” Mr Dick said.
“The Green Power Station will also supply baseload electricity to 28,000 homes, 24 hours per day.”
Member for Cook Cynthia Lui said the project represents a major boost for the region’s economy.
“MSF’s project here in Arriga is another step towards achieving the Palaszczuk Government’s vision for a $1 billion sustainable, export-oriented biotechnology and bioproducts sector,” Ms Lui said.
According to MSF Sugar CEO Mike Barry, “undertaking such an ambitious pilot project would be much less achievable without the support of the Queensland Government, which highlights the important role governments play in supporting the development of sustainable, high value industries”.
“The Biofutures Acceleration Program funding enabled us to fast-track the project and without this support, we may not have progressed to trial stage for another couple of years,” he said.
Mr Dick said the project was receiving funding from the Queensland Government’s Biofutures Acceleration Program to conduct a feasibility study that will consider all processes related to farming the new agave crop, making the biomass products (ethanol and electricity) and delivering the end products to market.
This builds on funding from the Queensland Government’s Biofutures Commercialisation Program to demonstrate bioethanol production for agave at the pilot scale.