Mackay Renewable Biocommodities Pilot Plant

Mackay Renewable Biocommodities Pilot Plant

Our Mackay Renewable Biocommodities Pilot Plant enables research and development in industrial biotechnology and biomass processing, technologies and practices.

Based on the site of an operating sugar factory, the pilot plant is a unique facility that converts biomass into biofuels, green chemicals and other bioproducts. The plant can develop and demonstrate a wide range of technologies at the pilot scale and is available for use by industry and research partners.

The Mackay Pilot Plant has been funded by the Australian Government (through NCRIS Capability 5.5 - Biotechnology Products and the Super Science Education Investment Fund), the Queensland Government Smart State Facilities Research Fund and QUT. The facility is hosted by Mackay Sugar Limited, one of Australia's leading sugar manufacturers, on the site of the Racecourse Mill in Mackay, Queensland.

Our research aims and activities

We aim to increase the uptake of renewable bioproduct technologies in Australia by developing innovative, commercially viable products at the Mackay Renewable Biocommodities Pilot Plant.

Researchers from within QUT's Centre for Agriculture and the Bioeconomy, external institutions and commercial organisations use the plant to conduct commercial-scale research in industrial biotechnology, sugarcane processing and biomass conversion for high-value product development.

In collaboration with the sugar mill and other industry and research partners, we develop new industrial products and processes using a wide range of biomass feedstocks, including:

  • Sugarcane bagasse
  • Trash
  • Molasses
  • Corn stover
  • Forestry residues
  • Sweet sorghum
  • Energy grasses
  • Other crops

Supported by the Biorefining Research Facility we enable project scale-up and development. As each project has unique processing requirements, we take a modular approach to providing for equipment processing needs through our collaborative relationships with other QUT facilities, researchers and industry partners. We house and have access to world-class equipment and processing capabilities to suit project scope.

Our core activities consist of of biomass preparation, pre-treatment, fermentation/bioreaction and separation.

We collaborate with other QUT based facilities including the Fermentation and Bioprocessing Laboratory, Banyo Pilot Plant and Central Analytical Research Facility and have access to a wide range of bioprocessing equipment and technologies through our QUT and industry networks.

Our state-of-the-art pilot plant houses the following core biomass preparation, pre-treatment, fermentation and bioreaction and separation technology equipment.

Equipment overview

Biomass handling and preparation

The biomass handling and preparation systems include:

  • Feed hoppers
  • Feed conveyor to transport bagasse to equipment
  • Mulching and milling equipment
Pre-treatment system

Biomass is pre-treated in a unique reactor constructed from corrosion-resistant alloys. The reactor can pre-treat and fractionate biomass using various physical and chemical processes, including steam explosion, single-stage and multi-stage acidic, alkali and solvent-based processes.

Multi-purpose reaction tanks

Our multi-purpose reaction tanks system consists of:

  • 300L jacketed reactor with stirring and external heat exchanger used for enzymatic hydrolysis process
  • 2x100L batch vacuum evaporator systems
Fermentation systems

Our bioreactors enable enzymatic hydrolysis and fermentation of a wide variety of yeast, fungal and bacterial organisms to produce bioproducts.

The pilot plant houses a range of fermentation systems from small- to pilot-scale:

  • 10L, 100L, 1000L and 10000L stirred fermenters
  • 10L, 100L and 1000L airlift fermenters
  • Continuous pasteuriser including plate heat exchange and holding tube, capable of sterilising fermentation medium up to 145°C
  • Continuous disc stack centrifuge

Equipment details



Tommy SX-500E vertical chamber autoclave with effective internal volume 50L.

Biosafety cabinet

Class II Esco infinity biosafety cabinet: for working with materials contaminated with pathogens requiring a defined biosafety level.

Fume hood

Hamilton SN FC-01 model ducted, for the safe management of chemicals.

Laboratory centrifuge

Hettich Rotina 420 Refrigerated centrifuge; Maximum capacity of: 4 x 600 mL, 52 x 15 mL conical tubes, 84 blood/urine tubes or 16 microtiter plates and 4,500 RPM.

Laboratory biochemistry analyser

YSI2950 – Biochemistry Analyzer with up to 3 biosensor modules. Measures up to 6 parameters. Fast and Accurate glucose measurement during fermentation process.

Convection oven

Sanyo MOV212F convection oven, effective capacity 150L with temperature control from 40oC to 200oC.

UV spectrophotometer

Shimadzu UV-1800; widely used to monitor the growth behaviour of microorganisms.

Incubator shaker

New Brunswick Innova 4330; refrigerated shaker incubator max capacity 6X6L flasks; provides temperatures from 15°C below ambient to 60°C for incubation. Shaking speeds from 25 RPM to 500 RPM on a 1-inch circular orbit.

Laboratory microbial incubator

Thermoline Australia I-60G-290-D microbial incubator, ambient +5C max 60C temperature and 50L internal capacity.

Microbial microscope

Nikon Eclipse E200, incorporates a high-intensity LED eco-illumination system that is IR-free, virtually eliminating eyestrain for users and is equipped with TUCSEN H series camera.

AND-moisture analyser

AND-ML-50 Moisture Analyzer, 51gX0.005g (0.1% Moisture Content)

Freeze dryer

VirTis 2K benchtop 3L [-55OC] Freeze Dryer, useful method for long-term preservation

Our partners can access the equipment at the pilot plant, as well as the considerable biomass harvesting, transportation, storage, processing and analytical expertise and equipment that we offer.

If you're interested in using the Mackay Renewable Biocommodities Pilot Plant or learning more about it, contact the Biorefining Research Facility.

Location Team

Ms Karen Cardona Rosales

Pilot Plant Coordinator

Dr Heng-Ho Wong

Principal Technologist

Mr Matthew Newland

Senior Bioprocess Technologist

Mr Kyle James

Bioprocess Technologist

Contact us

Biorefining Research Facility

Room 620, Level 6, Q Block
Gardens Point
2 George St
Brisbane QLD 4000 Australia

Postal address

Biorefining Research Facility
GPO Box 2434
Brisbane QLD 4001