Institute for Future

Mackay Renewable Biocommodities Pilot Plant

Our Mackay Renewable Biocommodities Pilot Plant, based on the site of an operating sugar factory, is a unique research and development 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 Pilot Plant.

Researchers from the Centre for Tropical Crops and Biocommodities use the plant to conduct commercial research in industrial biotechnology, sugarcane processing and biomass conversion for high value product development.

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

  • sugarcane bagasse
  • trash
  • molasses.

Through our partners, we have also access to various other biomass feedstocks, including:

  • corn stover
  • forestry residues
  • sweet sorghum
  • energy grasses
  • other crops.

Learn more about our research in industrial biotechnology, bioproducts and biorefining.

Hiring the pilot plant

The facility is available to key researchers from QUT and other universities, as well as research and industry partners, in accordance with National Collaborative Research Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS) principles.

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 Pilot Plant or learning more about it, contact Dr Ben Leita.

Discounted access may be available for your research project through the NCRIS.

Equipment and capabilities

Biomass pretreatment

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

Carbohydrate hydrolysis and fermentation

Enzymatic hydrolysis and fermentation can be undertaken in bioreactors of varying sizes up to 10,000 litres. A wide variety of yeast, fungal and bacterial organisms can be used for fermentation to produce bioproducts.

Product purification and recovery

Product purification equipment including centrifuges, distillation column, membrane filtration, vacuum filter, spray drier, solvent extraction, supercritical fluid process development unit (PDU) and other items can be used for product separation, purification and recovery to produce products in trial quantities.

Process development

Specialist equipment is available for process development, including:

  • Mettler Toledo RCe1 reaction calorimeter with in-situ infrared probe
  • Parr reactors
  • sand-bath reactor
  • microwave reactor
  • supercritical CO2 process development unit.

Analytical capability

We have significant analytical capability for biomass characterisation, including analysis of:

  • biomass composition
  • carbohydrate and organic acid characterisation
  • enzymatic hydrolysis and fermentation
  • biochemical and thermochemical processing techniques
  • lignin characterisation and functionalisation
  • biomass imaging and spectroscopy.

Biorefinery case studies

We have commissioned a study by Deloitte Access Economics, which has identified the economic opportunities for establishing a tropical biorefinery industry in Queensland. Read the outcomes of this study into tropical biorefineries (PDF file, 1.1 MB).

Find more information about one Queensland farmer's experience of using the pilot plant to test fibre crops for biofuel potential in this Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation case study.


Mackay Pilot Plant

Dr Ben Leita
Biorefining Facility Manager

  • Racecourse Mill Site
    Mackay Sugar Limited
    Peak Downs Highway
    Racecourse via Mackay QLD 4741