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From 'cancer' to carbon-buster: Turning prickly pest into super power hero

Statewide

Researchers believe a noxious weed that devastates grazing land and costs the Queensland economy billions has a lucrative future fuelling next generation power plants.

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The process that could see the march of Prickly Acacia come to an end has also been hailed by Katter’s Australian Party Leader and Traeger MP Robbie Katter, who is calling the technology game-changing.

Katter was in Townsville last week to launch the technology created by Queensland’s Carbon Renewable Energy, which has plans to convert the weed into carbon-neutral biomass suitable for export to world markets.

The company would use torrefaction-based technology to create the new fuel source, a process that would heat the weed to remove moisture and impurities, while retaining energy.

Katter says per tonne, torrefied Prickly Acacia would boast an impressive 24 gigajoules of energy, enough to keep 24, 60-watt light bulbs continuously lit for six months.

And there’s no shortage of the raw material, Katter says, with the weed running rampant across large tracts of grazing land, estimated at 23 million hectares, and costing the environment and graziers massively in lost production.

“Prickly Acacia is a ‘cancer’ on the Queensland landscape,” Katter said.

“It has been allowed to fester in the State for far too long, with inadequate funding provided to land management groups to control its spread and private landholders left ill-equipped to make a real dent in the problem.”

Carbon Renewable Energy founder Brad Carswell said Prickly Acacia as a premium biomass product, was an alternative to coal in cogeneration plants, with worldwide demand for the carbon-neutral product currently estimated 15 million tonnes per year,” he said.

“This is expected to grow to 50 million tonnes within a decade, signalling a huge rise in market demand within which we believe Australia, and specifically Queensland, can be front and centre.”

Carswell said the vast majority of Queenslanders had no idea of the damage caused by Prickly Acacia.

“People need to understand the destruction caused by Prickly Acacia,” he said.

“This is not your garden variety weed – these trees can grow to 8m high, sucking all of the water and nutrients out of the ground.

“Already we’ve lost millions of acres of prime agricultural land to this declared weed of national significance.

“To date, governments and land-owners have only been able to slow down its spread which sadly isn’t working – eradication has been a pipe dream.”

He said the regions that have battled with Prickly Acacia for decades, such as Hughenden, Richmond and Julie Creek and surrounds, would benefit hugely from being rid of the weed and would also see significant economic and employment flow-on effects associated with the project’s roll-out.

Queensland’s Carbon Renewable Energy has been researching methods to harvest and use the weed for a decade, and are hopeful of running a pilot program in the next 12 months with government and private sector investment.

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