BUNDABERG Sugar's Millaquin Mill is on track to cut its use of coal for power to virtually nothing from the 16,000 tonnes a year it uses now.
General manager of operations David Pickering said the mill had spent $40 million over the years to install new equipment to reduce the amount of moisture in the bagasse it was moving towards burning for energy.
Mr Pickering said the mill burnt bagasse during the crush to produce steam for power, and it also stored bagasse to ensure it had a supply for after the crush stopped. "That way we can keep running the boilers," he said.
Mr Pickering said although the project had been started before the Federal Government's introduction of the carbon tax, cutting out most of its coal consumption meant Bundaberg Sugar stayed below the threshold for paying the tax.
"Burning more than 10,000 tonnes a year would have put us over into carbon tax territory," he said. "16,000 tonnes would have been in that league, but now we're saying to the government we won't be burning that so we're not on their list of companies that have to pay the tax."
Mr Pickering said part of the project was making the mill's operations more reliable, which meant it produced more bagasse that could be used for power. "We are also making the factory more efficient, for instance with a new pan that operates with a lot less steam."
Mr Pickering said although the Millaquin Mill was moving towards zero coal usage, some would have to be burnt when the bagasse system was being maintained and bagasse was not available to burn. "This year we have managed to store 36,000 tonnes of bagasse that we can burn for power," he said.
More tonnage of bagasse would have to be burnt because it was not as efficient a fuel as coal. But Mr Pickering said bagasse was a renewable source that was more friendly to the environment.
The process of growing cane drew carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere which was then used by the mill for energy.
Mr Pickering said he did not have the figures of how much the company was saving by cutting its coal usage, but the 16,000 tonnes of coal would cost about $2.5 million a year.
"Obviously we're not going to save $2.5 million, but it is cost efficient," he said.
The $40 million cost of the upgrade was partly funded by a grant of $645,000 from the Federal Government's Clean Technology Food and Foundries Investment Program.