North Queensland Bio-Energy Corporation Limited (NQBE) has called on the Federal and State governments to harness the potential of the sugar industry to provide affordable renewable power, jobs, economic stability and security for regional areas.

With the Abbott Government currently seeking ways of developing regional areas of Northern Australia, and looking for affordable renewable energy projects to provide direct action against climate change, NQBE Chairman, Robert Carey, said his company’s renewable power, sugar and bio products facility at Ingham, 100km north of Townsville, could be the catalyst for a string of similar projects in sugar-growing areas along the east coast of Australia.

“Most of the sugar mills in Queensland and northern New South Wales are antiquated and, apart from a few mills generating a very small amount of power for export or producing ethanol (Sarina Mill only), most of the sugar mills only produce a single product - raw crystal sugar,” Mr Carey said.

“Bagasse, the ‘waste’ left after the sugar cane has been crushed, is generally burnt off or incinerated into the atmosphere, with no benefit to the farmers, millers or the environment.”

Mr Carey said the NQBE facility, when fully operational, would crush 2.5 million tonnes of sugar cane, the bagasse from which would be burnt in high pressure boilers to generate renewable power.

“By using state-of-the-art technology proven in similar sugar and power factories around the world, NQBE will generate approximately 105MW of renewable power over 320 days of the year, of which 80-85MW of which will be available for export to the national electricity grid.

“This is the equivalent of powering approximately 28,000 homes.

“Given that the Australian Sugar lndustry produces about 30-35 million tonnes of sugar cane annually, the potential for generation of significant quantities of renewable power is enormous, if the NQBE model was rolled out in all sugar growing areas.”

Mr Carey said the cost of this renewable power generation would be significantly lower than electricity produced by coal-fired power stations.

“The sugar cane feedstock is already transported to the mills in each district, and the crushing process already produces the bagasse, so the cost of the feedstock to generate this additional power, excluding capital expenditure, is relatively low.

”Compare this to coal-fired power generation, where the coal has to be extracted from the ground at significant cost, then transported to a power station along rail lines. The total infrastructure and capital expenditure of this operation, including the construction of power stations and rail lines, is very high. Then of course, there are the environmental considerations.”

“At a time when the Abbott Government is looking to develop Northern Australia and for direct ways of reducing carbon as an alternative to the carbon tax, the sugar alternative must be considered before any new ‘dirty or black’ coal-fired power stations are built.”

Mr Carey also pointed out that the advantages of the NQBE model are not restricted to cost savings and environmental issues.

“The NQBE project will provide 300-400 jobs in the Herbert River District (lngham) during the 20-24 month construction phase, and more than 200 permanent jobs when operational.

“It will also provide an annual economic benefit of more than $96 million to the North Queensland region, and will provide an alternate source of emergency power to North Queensland, should existing transmission lines be cut by a cyclone, or other natural disaster.”

Mr Carey said the NQBE project had the potential to provide affordable renewable power, hundreds of jobs, and emergency power security throughout Queensland’s sugar growing areas including Atherton, Cairns, Innisfail, Tully, Ingham, Burdekin (Giru, Brandon, Ayr and Home Hill), Proserpine, Mackay Bundaberg, Maryborough and Isis, as well as those sugar growing areas in Northern New South Wales.

“The potential benefits that could flow to these regional areas are enormous.”

Diversification is the catch cry of the Sugar lndustry, but sadly this has not been put into practise by the date.

“The NQBE Board believes that its model can deliver that diversification, whilst at the same time satisfying environment concerns over coal-fired power generation.

“Most of these types of projects struggle to get started for many reasons, not least of which is start-up capital. A relatively small seed funding investment by the Federal government for each of those sugar growing areas would provide a real incentive for the industry to look seriously at the NQBE model and the benefits that this model would deliver to all industry participants.

“The Australian Sugar lndustry once led the world in technology and advancement. Today it lags behind most international sugar producing countries, including Brazil, India, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and Cambodia.”