Leading economist Professor Ross Garnaut is looking to create Australia’s first renewable energy industrial development in central Queensland, using renewable energy sources to power and attract a range of manufacturing and agricultural businesses and create a template to help revive the fortunes of rural Australia.
Garnaut’s Sunshot Energy and the Remote Area Planning and Development board (RAPAD) – which represents seven councils in the region – have submitted an application for Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF) to kick start the renewable energy industrial zone near the town of Barcaldine in central western Queensland.
The Zone – as the project has been dubbed – would provide zero carbon low-cost energy for industrial users, as well as water, land, transport and communications and other services necessary for new industrial activities.
Among the first business activities proposed are a commercial scale zero carbon hydrogen plant, and the manufacture of vanadium electrolyte for use in vanadium flow batteries that provide storage volume and dispatch capacity suited to industrial customers. It would also demonstrate innovative zero carbon supply chains for agricultural inputs and for processing agricultural and mineral products.
“The Barcaldine Renewable Energy Industrial Zone will be an important step in regional Australia playing a central role in building Australia as a Superpower in the emerging zero carbon global economy,” Garnaut says.
Barcaldine was chosen because Garnaut knows the area well, and because it has a good grid connection, what he describes as the best grid connected solar resource in the country, and is also a major transport hub, with both major rail lines and roads. And it has access to artesian water.
“It adds up to a good place to start,” Garnaut told RenewEconomy.
Garnaut says renewable energy will be supplied through Sunshot Energy, which will construct new renewable energy facilities, including a possible new solar farm, as demand increases and the industrial park grows.
“We will provide cheap power,” he says. “The first thing is to get funding for precinct itself. This project will immediately double the number of jobs in Barcaldine and provide a basis for continued expansion of employment and income.”
He says it will provide a model for rural industrial development throughout western Queensland and Northern Australia.
The Zone project has three stages of development, and Garnaut says the first is ready to go. This focuses on the “protected horticulture” sector, such as industrial scale greenhouses that would require a lot of electricity during the day to cool the interior, as opposed to southern regions where the focus is on using electricity to warm the interior at night.
Other stage one proposals include using waste biomass for pyrolysis to produce char, bio-oil and bio-gas, and feeding the carbon dioxide from its combustion into the greenhouse and for conversion of renewable hydrogen-based ammonia to urea.
It will look to use biomass from the invasive species prickly acacia and then biomass from new biodiverse plantings of trees with multiple sources of value, including soil regeneration, greenhouse agriculture.
The second stage will focus on ammonia and hydrogen and could generate nearly $900 million in new investment, 610 construction jobs and 507 ongoing full-time jobs.
The third stage, which could feature Stage three (could lift that level of investment to more than $1.53 billion, 1090 construction jobs and 572 ongoing full-time jobs.