Friday, April 5, 2024


Mackay and Whitsunday Life

Eggs In More Baskets Than SAFs

By Kevin Borg, Chairman, CANEGROWERS Mackay

There’s been a great deal of talk around SAFs – sustainable aviation fuels – and some outstanding work done in projects that use sugar cane as a base, particularly in growing regions such as Mackay, the Burdekin, Mossman and Rocky Point/Gold Coast.
As a CANEGROWERS elected representative, I was a part of the working group that developed the sugar industry roadmap Sugar Plus: Fuelling the Future of Food, Energy and Fabrication, which was released in July 2022.
CANEGROWERS has been at the forefront of speaking up for sugarcane value add, and the critical importance of benefits being distributed across the value chain for decades.
The goals are sound: to use the renewable feedstock sugarcane for next-generation foods fibres and fuels. It is now expected of the global economy to decarbonise and move away from fossil fuels wherever it can and towards making use of outstanding fast-growing feedstocks like sugarcane.
While there has been excellent progress on the research and development side from universities, research organisations and private sector companies, it is also clear that there is a strong requirement that there be bi-partisan government support – in terms of policy and investment – in realising the value of this sugar industry diversification sector.
A prime example is Brazil, whose government has implemented policy to establish a robust ethanol industry that has the flexibility to switch sugar/ ethanol ratios of production to meet shifts in demand and pricing for either product.
Sustainable Aviation Fuel is costly. To develop an industry will require government support. There are a variety of feedstocks that are suitable- not just sugarcane waste, but waste from corn, cotton and many other crops also being found as viable feedstock.
As the sugar industry moves into an ever more diversified product base, it needs to be remembered that demand remains high in the world market for raw sugar. This will always be the base, and the rest is value added to the sugar cane product. Therefore, if more income can be made by the miller from the grower’s feedstock, then so too should there be a value proposition for growers.
That is why both myself and CANEGROWERS Mackay District Manager Michelle Martin sit on the Greater Whitsunday Biofutures Leaders Group – a working group with representatives from across the supply chain, government and economic development who are mindfully developing a coordinated approach to developing a diversified sugarcane based biocommodities sector. But it is still some years before a stable industry can truly deliver for the region: there will, as ever, be successes and failures. It will be a great boon to local industry, but not a silver bullet.
CANEGROWERS will continue working with a whole-of-industry approach.
Locally, with the announcement of the State Development Areas moving to the next stage of development, we are seeing the concrete commencement of a Greater Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac SAFs and precision-fermentation foods manufacturing sector. An economic diversification that offers a broad range of employment and education opportunities, with a fully renewable feedstock at its base.
Sustainable fuels will be a boon to the environment and to economies, but it is also essential that we do not put all our eggs into one basket.

As the economy decarbonises into the future, there will be increasing use of SAF. Picture: Kirili Lamb

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