After 12 years of development the Pentland Bio-Energy Project’s construction phase is slated to commence in September 2016.
Renewable Developments Australia Pty Ltd (RDA) managing director Tony D'Alessandro said the $800m project is expected to provide substantial economic gains for the local economy and create hundreds of employment opportunities.
If all goes according to plan the fully integrated and energy self-sufficient plant situated about 90km south-west of Charters Towers and its accompanying sugar cane and sweet sorghum crops will produce its first ethanol by 2019 at the latest.
“The project is currently in the final stage of due diligence and we are targeting financial close for August, after which construction will commence,” Mr D'Alessandro said.
The last challenge that needed to be overcome for the project was the access to the 75,000 megalitres of water needed for the first stage of production.
Mr D'Alessandro is now confident that after holding discussions with government officials the issue will be resolved before the end of June.
“Water is no longer an issue from our point-of-view,” he said.
The plant is initially expected to produce 194 million litres of fuel grade ethanol between 2018-2019.
“All ethanol produced will be exported to a Fortune 100 company in the United States with which we have an off-take agreement arranged for the next 15 years.”
To get to the initial level of production necessary 19,000 hectares of the 67,000 hectares of our leased land which we have for the next 60 years, will be used.
Production will increase to 344 million litres by June 2020 annually at an average price of 80c per litre, which equates to $280m in export trade out of the region at least for the next 10 years.
The project will employ 500 people during the construction phase, and a further 180-200 people when operations commence in late 2018.
“We’ll start with proven first generation ethanol production in stage one and if investor appetite in Australia is strong enough we’ll commence with second generation production as quickly as possible.
“Second generation biofuels created by extracting the ethanol from biomass and waste, which is a much more complex procedure.
“Second generation ethanol production have never been tried in Australia before and their are only two industrial plants in the world producing it.
Mr D'Alessandro said a $1 million seven hectare fully irrigated trial site has already been constructed on-property to see how well centre pivot and drip irrigation methods will work using a wide variety of cane and sorghum species.
“By using these irrigation methods which is replication on a small scale what we’ll be doing over the entire farm, we’ll effectively halve our water needs compared to if we pumped direct from the Burdekin Dam.
“We established the trial site in October 2015, which we planted with sweet sorghum in November 2015 and we harvested our first crop on May 10 which turned out very well, and the cane we have growing at present looks fantastic.
He said if the project is successful, down the road there is the potential to substitute sugarcane for super sweet sorghum crop.
“Sorghum has caloric and bio-mass yields three times that of cane providing additional output at a similar operating cost.
He said everything regarding the project is moving very fast now, and he’s excited about the level of enthusiasm being shown.
“We sent out the tenders for the 13 packages of construction work two weeks ago and we’ve already had over 300 tenders sent back in, which will all go to local contractors.
“The whole region is very excited about it, we’ve had great backing from the Townsville and Charters Towers councils as well as all levels of government and the Minister Assisting the Premier on North Queensland Coralee O'Rourke has also been of great help to us.”
It’s been a long development period but getting the project set up correctly is very important, and if we need to delay progress to make sure everything is going to run smoothly we will.