GREEN OUTLOOK: 3D Concept of fully developed Bundaberg bioHub site (subject to planning and approvals).
GREEN OUTLOOK: 3D Concept of fully developed Bundaberg bioHub site (subject to planning and approvals).

NEW ERA: What bioHub opening means for region

BUNDABERG is set to become the flagship for Utilitas Group’s biohub vision.

With the Bundaberg bioHub industrial park open and taking expressions of interest from prospective bioenergy, food and fertiliser industry tenants, the region’s bioeconomy is seeing green.

Bioenergy developer Utilitas Group has collaborated with Bundaberg Regional Council to acquire a redundant wastewater treatment plant to create an industrial park focused on renewable natural gas (RNG), biomethane and hydrogen.

Utilitas Group and local gas network owner AGIG are currently jointly assessing the feasibility of green gas from the Bundaberg bioHub going into the Bundaberg gas distribution network via a new connection.

Utilitas CEO Fiona Waterhouse said the region was already a bioeconomy powerhouse with food and beverage processing, the horticulture and cane growing; this was just leveraging the bioeconomy to the next stage.

GREEN OUTLOOK: Drone photo of Bundaberg bioHub site (mowed area) June 2020.
GREEN OUTLOOK: Drone photo of Bundaberg bioHub site (mowed area) June 2020.

The Bundaberg bioHub offers industrial and commercial tenants a blend of laboratory, waste and wastewater services, electricity, gas, C02 and hot water as part of their tenancy.

Ideal tenancies are now available for: biomanufacturing, growhouse, aquaculture, ag-tech, organic processing and fertiliser.

Bundaberg bioHub is also said to be a showcase for renewable natural gas (RNG) solutions, biomethane and hydrogen, tailored to the Australian market.

For Ms Waterhouse, this mission has long been a part of her life.

Her father had a demolition business in New Castle in the ’70s, where she got her first waste contract at seven-years-old, picking up waste copper and selling it to the metal companies.

Having started Utilitas, which means useful and utility, a decade ago, Ms Waterhouse said they spent years conducting 350 site assessments across Australia for a biohub industrial park, and “Bundaberg’s number 1”.

“Then when we came here and said this is our vision, they said all right, it’s our vision too now,” she said.

“We identified it as the number one site in Australia and when we got here we were treated like partners to unlock that potential right from day one.”

TIME OF CHANGE: Utilitas CEO Fiona Waterhouse at the Bundaberg bioHub site.
TIME OF CHANGE: Utilitas CEO Fiona Waterhouse at the Bundaberg bioHub site.

She said this was about the next evolution of the economy for the benefit of regional communities, most particularly.

“I think the exciting thing is that it’s about existing jobs like growing crops and trading fertiliser and making energy; but it’s also about new jobs.”

Ms Waterhouse said they were already negotiating with potential tenants to come into the hub.

She said Energy360, a biogas company were looking to build a biogas plant here, something which Utilitas was also looking to build.

“We’re hoping there may even be some other biogas companies that want to come here, so that we can maximise the amount of biomethane that we can get into the gas grid,” she said.

“The gas network owner is working with us to do feasibility about connecting up to the gas grid – so they are already rowing in the boat as well which is just fantastic.

“They want the green gas in the grid.”

Ms Waterhouse said they had been working with the neighbouring sites like the Distillery for options to digest their wastestreams and the energy that could produce; and the Jealous family’s property to grow feedstock to make energy.

She said this was about the next evolution of the economy for the benefit of regional communities, most particularly.

“I think the exciting thing is that it’s about existing jobs like growing crops and trading fertiliser and making energy; but it’s also about new jobs,” she said.

For Ms Waterhouse it was about combining the old and the new to redefine the next 100 years at the site.

TIME OF CHANGE: Bundaberg mayor Jack Dempsey with Utilitas CEO Fiona Waterhouse at the official opening of the Bundaberg bioHub industrial park.
TIME OF CHANGE: Bundaberg mayor Jack Dempsey with Utilitas CEO Fiona Waterhouse at the official opening of the Bundaberg bioHub industrial park.

Bundaberg Mayor Jack Dempsey said the bioHub project would invigorate the decommissioned East Bundaberg wastewater treatment plant and create new jobs in a dynamic, future-focused industry.

“Bundaberg is poised to become the bio-manufacturing capital of Queensland and Australia,” he said.

“Bundaberg will be the showcase bioHub site for Utilitas which will make us a role model for the rest of Australia.

“Repurposing our retired East Bundaberg wastewater treatment plant as part of a next generation bioHub will help attract and develop industry leaders in the growing bio-manufacturing sector.”

Mr Dempsey said as the community grows, we needed jobs for the future and the bioindustry brings technical skills to the region.

Ms Waterhouse said their supply chain partners, Green Eco Technologies (GET), Grenof, ENGV, Energy360, Scania, New Holland and ReCarbon Inc. have told them how important it was to provide an “expo park” to showcase the technologies and new business models for this new asset class in Australia.

GREEN OUTLOOK: A bioHub by Utilitas has anaerobic digestion (biogas) for Renewable Natural Gas (RNG) biomethane and hydrogen while providing a platform for biomanufacturing.
GREEN OUTLOOK: A bioHub by Utilitas has anaerobic digestion (biogas) for Renewable Natural Gas (RNG) biomethane and hydrogen while providing a platform for biomanufacturing.

“We are very excited to be working with waste industry innovators, GET, supplier of the WasteMaster organic waste management system on display at the Bundaberg bioHub today,” she said.

“As an indication of the bioeconomy opportunity in the region and GET’s commitment to Queensland, once the first 30-40 WasteMasters are installed in commercial facilities like clubs, pubs, hospitals and aged care facilities in the Wide Bay Region, GET will be looking to establish their Queensland base, including manufacturing capability, at the Bundaberg bioHub. “A win-win-win: customers get cheaper, cleaner, safer organic waste management, the Bundaberg bioHub get a great feedstock for making renewable natural gas (RNG) and Bundaberg gets some new manufacturing jobs.”.

Ms Waterhouse said Utilitas Group was very excited to be working with Smart Capital Invest, delivering their UTG: 100 vision – 100 bioHubs in 100 regional communities by 2030.

“Together we are delivering renewable natural gas (RNG), biomethane and hydrogen, to secure our fuel, food and fertiliser supplies, existing and new jobs in our regions,” she said.

As a partner of Utilitas, Grenof managing director Scott Barnes said their role was within the construction, operations and maintenance.

TIME OF CHANGE: Grenof managing director Scott Barnes at the Bundaberg bioHub industrial park opening.
TIME OF CHANGE: Grenof managing director Scott Barnes at the Bundaberg bioHub industrial park opening.

Bundaberg Regional Council’s executive director of economic development and strategic projects Ben Artup said after years of work, this was an exciting time.

“The bioeconomy, building Australia’s first bioenergy hub is one of our biggest priorities council’s focused on, so we want to make this one successful and get the jobs we can here in Bundaberg out of it and go from there,” he said.

To ‘transition to national bio manufacturing hub’ was one of the priorities outlined in the council’s recent advocacy list ahead of the state election.

Their advocacy position is that the state and federal governments develop an industry fund to support the transition of the region’s sugar cane industry into bio manufacturing.

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