Sugar is a key industry for Mackay's future.
Sugar is a key industry for Mackay's future. Rae Wilson

A greener economy is closer than you think

GREEN or circular economies are such hype phrases at the moment in government agency circles and whilst, at first glance, it looks like an impossible task for a region like ours to move to a greener economy, residents of Mackay Isaac Whitsunday will be pleasantly surprised.

Our region is a national hotspot for feedstock. Sugar cane; horticulture including tomatoes, capsicums, mangoes and bananas; intensive livestock; aquaculture waste, to name but a few, positions the Mackay Isaac Whitsunday region strongly in the biofutures and green economy space.

Importantly, our region also boasts a number of established biofutures businesses with proven track records. But there is so much potential for more.

This is not to say that we shift our concentration away from the traditional products our agricultural sector produces such as raw sugar or domestically consumed fruit and vegetables. Rather, we focus on the value-adding potential of bioproducts which offer renewable and environmentally friendly alternative to existing refining processes. Many of the potential feedstocks for bio- products are the byproducts of agricultural processes or waste products that otherwise may just be thrown out or burnt.

So how does our region take advantage of the rapidly expanding biofutures industry? The answer is collaboration. The MIW Biofutures Steering Committee, chaired by GW3 and made up of industry representatives from all sectors, was formed earlier this year and its charter is simple: to identify and progress biofutures opportunities for the Mackay Isaac and Whitsunday region. Remember, pursuing a biofutures industry does not mean our traditional sectors are not important. Our region's agriculture, METS and sugar manufacturing sectors are all integral to the growth of the biofutures sector and if we get it right the stakes are very high. In 2014, the global market for bio-based products was worth US $438B. By 2022, that figure is expected to exceed more than US $1128B.

The MIW Biofutures Steering Committee has identified several potential biofutures precincts and is now actively working with proponents to convert their interest in our region and our feedstock, to reality. The region's proximity to both steam and power energy sources; availability of broad acre cropping; continued investment in infrastructure (such as the ring road and the Mackay Port Access road) and well-established supply chains makes this region very attractive. Whilst there is work still to be done, the future is looking increasingly positive and green!

- Kylie Porter

GW3 interim CEO