August 12, 2015

Sugar power

Australia’s second-largest sugar producer also powers almost a third of Mackay. Quinton Hildebrand, Chief Executive Officer of Mackay Sugar, explains how a ‘nothing is wasted’ approach to the business is creating multiple income streams.

Every year Mackay Sugar produces about 800,000 tonnes of raw sugar, 200,000 tonnes of molasses – and enough renewable energy to power close to 30 percent of the city of Mackay.

“Our 38 megawatt Racecourse Cogeneration Plant is also reducing Queensland’s greenhouse gas emissions by 200,000 tonnes equivalent carbon dioxide each year,” says Chief Executive Officer Quinton Hildebrand.

Mackay Sugar has been in business for over 140 years and is Australia’s second-largest sugar producer with four operating sugar mills and an annual turnover of more than $300 million. It’s also a major exporter, selling half of its sugar products to Korea, Japan, China, Indonesia and Malaysia.

“We have always powered our mills by burning the sugar cane by-product known as bagasse – we’re fortunate to have a free and renewable source of fuel,” says Hildebrand. “Then, about 15 years ago, we recognised that this process had the potential to generate a second income stream. We developed a co-generation plant that’s now feeding 26 megawatts of clean electricity continuously into the grid.”

Co-generation also brought significant flow-on benefits.

“We are now perceived to be a contemporary and diversified renewable energy organisation rather than a traditional sugar business and this is having a positive impact on our ability to attract and retain good people,” Hildebrand continues. “There has also been a significant mind shift about energy efficiency. In the past, we always had more than enough bagasse to power our factories so we didn’t need to give it much thought. Now, every tonne of bagasse that’s wasted or used in our existing operations reduces the amount of power available for sale so energy efficiency has become a major focus. For example, we’ve just completed an $11 million upgrade to a 38-year-old boiler to improve efficiency and reduce emissions.”

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Nothing is wasted

Mackay Sugar has developed a ‘nothing is wasted’ approach to business, reusing and recycling all of the by-products to produce a variety of environmentally friendly products. Any remaining waste is returned to the soil as fertiliser.

“It’s a pretty sustainable process, and we’re working with our growers to become more productive, profitable and sustainable,” says Hildebrand.

The company is also committed to further diversification.

“We have the QUT Mackay Renewable Biocommodities Pilot Plant onsite, which is using cutting edge technology to find ways of turning plant material into ethanol and other products,” Hildebrand continues. “We’re also a partner in the Queensland Sustainable Aviation Fuel Initiative.

“Cane plants convert sunlight into energy very efficiently, so the 70,000 hectares that supply our mills act something like a massive solar panel,” says Hildebrand, who is leaving the company at the end of the year to broaden his experience. “I’m sure Mackay Sugar will keep on building value by processing the energy captured in its sugar, molasses and fibre into more ‘green’ products for both the domestic and Asian markets.”

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