Mossman Mill bio-refinery to produce new green chemical manufacturing jobs.


Howard Salkow

Senior Journalist

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Benefits of a bio-refinery include securing local employment, increased labour skills, new jobs attached to marketing, and storage and transport logistics says John Hodgson, a Senior Project Engineer with Mackay Sugar. IMAGE: Supplied

The proposed bio-refinery facility for the Mossman Mill will offer numerous benefits including reducing the mill’s exposure to the sagging world sugar price.

John Hodgson, a Senior Project Engineer with Mackay Sugar, says the main benefits (from a bio-refinery) are increased revenue from the new chemical or energy products; supplementing or replacing revenue from sugar; and reducing a sugar mill’s exposure to the world sugar price.

What is a bio-refinery?

“Flow on benefits include securing local employment, increased labour skills required to operate a new biotechnology plant, and new jobs attached to marketing, and storage and transport logistics,” he said.

A bio-refinery – a major component of Far Northern Milling’s plans for when they take over the Mossman Mill from Mackay Sugar – is a facility that integrates biomass conversion processes and equipment to produce fuels, power, and value-added chemicals from biomass.

The bio-refinery concept is analogous to today's petroleum refinery, which produce multiple fuels and products from petroleum.

And this could not be coming at a better time for Mossman, according to a recent study.

What is a bio-refinery?

Growing the industrial bio-technology and bio-products sector in Queensland has many advantages, according to a Queensland Government document entitled Advance Queensland (June 2016).

“It would unlock the state’s potential to commercially produce advanced biofuels, bio-chemicals, bioplastics and other biomaterials.”

In 2014, a joint Deloitte Access Economics and Queensland University of Technology (QUT) study – Economic Impact of a Future Tropical Bio-refinery Industry in Queensland – projected that:

“By 2035, an industrial biotechnology and bio-products sector could contribute $1.8 billion to Queensland’s annual Gross State Product and support 6640 full-time jobs in Queensland.”

The same study reveals that according to the World Economic Forum (WEF), converting biomass into fuels, energy, and chemicals, has the potential to generate upwards of US$230 billion to the global economy by 2020.

By 2020, revenue from biofuels is forecast to reach US$80 billion; plastics and chemicals are forecast to reach US$15 billion.

Although there is no clarity how Far Northern Milling plan to use the proposed bio-refinery when they take over the mill, Hodgson said a bio-refinery enhances a mill.

“A sugar-mill based bio-refinery converts sugarcane into higher value chemicals or energy products in addition to, or in place of, sugar production.

“Manufacturing could be via the direct fermentation of sucrose or via the conversion of cellulosic fibre (bagasse) to fermentable sugars.”

It has been reported that the Mossman Mill bio-refinery will use the latest in green chemical technology and will also diversify the Douglas Shire economy through the introduction of a considerable number of green chemical manufacturing jobs.

Hodgson said bio-refining typically involves complex chemical and biological processes requiring advanced knowledge-based skills.

“Research facilities would be integral to a modern bio-refinery, requiring research personnel and likely collaboration with other tertiary education institutes.”

When asked whether a bio-refinery would operate 12 months a year once up and running, Hodgson said a year-round operation is necessary to maximise the capacity factor of the investment.

“This may not occur in the start-up years while markets develop,” he said.

In one of her rare interviews, Maryann Salvetti, Chairperson of Canegrowers Tableland, was quoted in Newsport on September 10 last year saying that the (conditional) purchase of Mossman Mill by Far Northern Milling is not just about the growers, it is about the people who work in Mossman directly and indirectly with the mill.

“It is about developing a state-of-the-art processing facility which will produce sustainable environmental friendly products, and a bio-precinct that will attract more people and businesses to the area.

“It will create new jobs, secure existing employment, support growth and development, and put an end to the uncertainty which has surrounded the sugar industry in Mossman for some time,” she said.

Meanwhile, Far Northern Milling is waiting on federal ($20m) and state ($25m) government funding which will not only secure the mill’s future, but allow them to meet the terms of their ‘conditional’ purchase of the mill from Mackay Sugar, who acquired it in 2012 for $25m. Conditions include due diligence, finance, cane supply and environmental conditions.

Mossman Canegrowers, Tableland Canegrowers and Australian Cane Farmers Association have worked closely together to form Far Northern Milling.

Newsport has reported that neither levels of government have provided any indication when they will release the funds. The state government said they would do so when the federal government met their commitment.

The only other revenue source is from Douglas Shire Council who committed $250,000 to help Far Northern Milling cover costs of acquiring the mill.


Bio-refinery – Information sheet

What is bio-refining?

• Bio-refining is the process of converting biomass (organic matter) into value-added sustainable fuels, chemicals and plastics.

• The commercial production of sustainable replacements for chemicals, plastics and fuels from biomass is now established globally.

• According to the World Economic Forum, the global bio-refinery products market is expected to reach $US 1 trillion by 2028.

What is a bio-refinery?

• A bio-refinery is a facility that uses processes and equipment to convert biomass into fuels, power, heat, and value-added chemicals. The bio-refinery concept is comparable to today's petroleum refinery, which produce multiple fuels and products from petroleum.

• The International Energy Agency Bioenergy Task 42 on bio-refineries defines bio-refining as the sustainable processing of biomass into a spectrum of bio-based products (food, feed, chemicals, materials) and bioenergy (biofuels, power and/or heat).

• A range of organic waste can be used as feedstock for a bio-refinery. Feedstock may include fats, oils and grease, commercial and industrial waste, bio-solids, sugarcane waste, sorghum, wood chips, algae and possibly specific waste streams like prickly acacia, which is an invasive weed in north west Queensland.

• Queensland has a comparative advantage in bio-refining, with the state’s climate and agricultural sectors supporting a large supply of biomass material that could be used to produce sustainable fuel, chemicals and plastics.

• Bio-refineries can produce a range of bio-products such as fuels, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, plastics and textiles.

• Bio-products offer a renewable and environmentally beneficial alternative to existing conventional chemical and fossil fuel refining processes.

Converting biomass (rather than fossil fuels) into value-added sustainable fuels, chemicals and plastics provides:

• agricultural diversification and additional income streams for farmers
• local advanced manufacturing jobs in regional areas
• regional prosperity, resilience and sustainability
• reduced carbon emissions
• increased fuel security (Queensland is the most road-freight dependent state or territory in the world, and Australia imports 96 per cent of its fuel)
• new export markets
• momentum in the circular economy.

How does a bio-refinery operate?

The key steps in how a bio-refinery operates, which produces ethanol (biofuel) from sugarcane waste.

Step 1 – Processed biomass (such as sugarcane waste) is treated with heat and chemicals
Step 2 – Enzymes break down cellulose into sugar
Step 3 – Microbes ferment sugar into ethanol
Step-4 – Ethanol (biofuel) is purified and prepared for distribution.

Other bio-refineries may have different processes of operation (for example thermochemical), depending upon the feedstock, technology and products produced.



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