Western Australian-based Plantation Energy is gearing up to build a $25m wood pellet mill on the outskirts of Mount Gambier which would employ more than 60 people directly and indirectly.
The company will build the mill and another at Heywood of the same size, initially to service market demand in Europe for biofuel.
The combined $50m developments could also strenghten the case to reopening rail freight services in the Green Triangle.
As biofuels become better understood in Australia, Plantation Energy hopes the product will be shipped by rail to Port Augusta and other domestic coal-fired power stations.
Revealing the plans yesterday, Plantation Energy managing director Dick Allen said he had been working with Timbercorp, Forestry SA and other forestry companies in the region.
“Wood pellets are basically small compressed cylinders of non-commercial timber,” Mr Allen said.
“What is left over from harvesting plantation trees is what we use to make fuel pellets.
“They are used to co-burn with coal in coal-fired power stations in Europe at the moment.
“They substitute the fuel pellets for coal to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions.
“It is an engineered product – they are about the same size as rabbit pellets – about 6mm wide and 12 to 15mm long.
“You get maximum energy out of the pellet itself and it is a very effective fuel in coal-fired power stations and they are also used in domestic heating appliances.”
Mr Allen said a $25m wood pellet plant was under construction at Albany in Western Australia and would be commissioned for use in February.
He said equipment for plants in the Green Triangle region had been ordered and building works were expected to commence in April.
“Hopefully it will be ready for production in September or October next year,” Mr Allen said.
“In Mount Gambier we are looking at establishing one in parallel with what we are doing at Heywood, so there will be one at Heywood and one in Mount Gambier.”
Mr Allen said he was working with Forestry SA on the location of the Mount Gambier based mill which would directly employ 15 people.
But with an additional assortment of contractors required “we would be looking at four times that many”.
“We would like to see the product used in Australia, but initially the market is in Europe and we will be exporting to Europe,” he said.
“We are looking at (the coal-fired power station at Port Augusta) – we would like to rail it to them if it makes sense for them.
“It is very viable to shift (pellets) long distances like Port Augusta by rail.”
Timbercorp forestry general manager Tim Browning said the mill at Heywood would be located at the site previously earmarked for a pulp mill.
“Plantation Energy have commenced construction of their first mill at Albany to which we will be undertaking some chipping for them and supply of non-pulpwood forest products from our plantation estate,” Mr Browning said.
“We are now in advanced stages of replicating that arrangement at our Unima Treefarm site – the former site for the Heywood pulp mill.
“Plantation Energy have contracts to supply pellets to a number of European destinations.”
Green Triangle Regional Plantation Committee executive officer John Kellas said it was a great opportunity for value adding to take place in the region.
“For further value adding, it would be important if the pellets were used in Australia as a replacement for fossil fuel, helping our carbon pollution reduction scheme,” Dr Kellas said.
“If they are exporting overseas, it will be important export income for Australia.
“Exporting is all good revenue for Australia – the forest products import bill is about $2b per year.
“It might help relieve some of the pressure on the roading into Portland as well.” – The Border Watch