Ethanol plant excitement

THE sweet smell of sugar cane was strong in the air as 40 Queenslanders descended on the Ethanol Technologies (Ethtec) laboratory in Harwood yesterday.

The 40 visitors were all shareholders in the fledgling ethanol company and were there for a tour and update of the plant's progress.

One of those investors, Andrew Turnour, an engineer from Townsville, was openly excited about the project

"Engineers love new technology; I've been an investor in this project from day one," he said.

"I'm from a rural background and I believe farmers can do so much more with their energy efficiency.

"This was the first opportunity for shareholders to come and have a look.

"So it was an opportunity to come down here and see the hardware we've invested in."

Mr Turnour said progressing the technology was necessarily slow but worth the wait.

"To be able to come here and see and touch the equipment is very comforting for the patient investors," he said.

"This is an original technology, patented in Australia with very little government buy-in.

"It ticks all the environmental boxes. It's a new science emerging as an alternative to carbon."

One of the main people behind the facility is Ethtec director and chief scientist Dr Russell Reeves.

The research and development behind Dr Reeves' work dates back more than 30 years.

The culmination of his and others' work is the world's only sugar cane-based ethanol refinery, located right here in the Valley.

Dr Reeves took the visiting shareholders on a guided tour of the plant.

The facility contained dozens of vats, pipes, pumps, tubes and what looked like a giant beaker.

To the untrained eye - that is, my own - parts of the refinery's "engine room" appeared somewhat like an over-sized child's science experiment.

There was a funny side to the tour as well when the partially refined matter, called extrudate, passed out a long hose onto a conveyor, leaving hundreds of small piles of dark material.

This led one shareholder to comment that the material looked like something his Rottweiler left behind.

Funny looking materials aside, Dr Reeves said the project has probably reached the half-way mark after beginning in earnest four years ago.

The project began after raising $5 million from shareholders in 2006/07.

That $5 million took the company through to the end of 2009, when they raised another $6 million by way of rights issue to existing shareholders.

They also received $3 million from the Federal Government, bringing the total investment so far to about $14 million.

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