Author: Laura Chalk
We’re in an age of innovation when it comes to sustainable resource use. Ink toner is being used to build roads, soft plastics are transformed into outdoor furniture. It seems that imagination is all that’s needed when it comes to producing another addition to the assemblage of clever environmental solutions.
The world’s largest crop of the plant used to make tequila is set to be cultivated not on the plains of Mexico, but in far north Queensland. And it’s use? Rather than as a go-to alcoholic shot at parties, it will help fuel a new green energy initiative.
Queensland’s MSF Sugar is aiming to become a world industry leader, with plans to plant 4,000 hectares of the agave plant on the Atherton Tablelands, west of Cairns. It aims to plant 3.2 million agave plants each year.
“Agave produces a huge amount of biomass with very little water, and the climate up here is very similar to Tequila, Mexico, so we thought maybe we can use it,” explains business development manager, Hywel Cook.
The milling company is planning a $60 million biomass refinery project scheduled for completion in 2018, which will operate along with a green energy power station and distillery.
The agave plantations will form a large part of the project, fuelling the power station, along with sugar cane fibre. This innovative fuel will provide 200,000 megawatts of electricity every year, which will be fed into the Ergon Energy grid.
According to Mr Cook, the company seeks to optimise the plant’s use seasonally: “During the crushing season we’ll take in the cane and then in the other half of the year we’ll bring in the agave.”
The plant has potential beyond fuel. Mr Cook sees it as a raw material that can be converted into a plastic alternative as well as a range of other products.
Agave cultivation is perfect for Australia’s dry climate, as its water efficiency makes it appealing not just to the milling company but also to local farmers.
This imaginative use of a versatile plant is an inspiration for innovators everywhere to invent new uses for resources already in our midst. This initiative by MSF Sugar is certainly one worth cheering on.
Laura joined Planet Ark in 2016. She has a wealth of knowledge and experience having travelled the world and a background in teaching English as a second language among other things.