The $6.6 million plant will produce around 50 tonnes of Cyrene per annum and is due to be up and running within 12 months, following a grant of $1.5 million from the State. Government. Norske Skog regional president Andrew Leighton said this diversification into bio-chemical production was a good fit for Norske Skog's Australasian strategic direction of "building our future from fibre and energy".
Mr Leighton said the company had been working with Melbourne-based Circa Group for the past 12 months and he looked forward to a long and productive relationship. He thanked the Tasmanian Government for its support for the exciting new opportunity. Circa Group CEO Tony Duncan said his company's focus was in the research, development and commercialisation of biochemicals from sustainable cellulose feedstocks. He said Circa had been working on the current project since 2009 and it was great to have Norske Skog on board given its knowledge and experience in processing wood residues and large-scale manufacturing.
Mr Duncan said the commercial demonstration plant at the Boyer Mill would be the fifth and largest scale-up of Circa's "Furacell" technology. He said the plant was designed to demonstrate the commercial viability of the technology, while providing increased volumes for researchers and customers in Europe, North America, Asia and locally.
He said customer trials over the last 18 months had shown Cyrene to be one of the very few new solvents capable of competing in a global market of over 900,000 tonnes per annum, where many traditional products are under increasing pressure due to environmental and health concerns.
"While there is a long way to go, this investment by Norske Skog and Circa Group, backed by the government, is an important step for the industry. This demonstrates that there are opportunities to grow the value of our forest industries, to create more jobs in Tasmania. The world wants new, more environmentally-sensitive products to replace those that use fossil fuels, and bio-technology is the way of the future," Mr Hodgman said.
Norske Skog and Circa Group would produce about 50 tonnes of the bio-solvent each year for export to European markets. "The investment is a vote of confidence in the Tasmanian economy, and will add to a long and proud history of forest-based processing at the Boyer Mill site. It also continues Norske Skog’s efforts to move with the market and to position the company to capture emerging opportunities," Mr Hodgman said.
"The government’s commitment will be drawn from unspent Commonwealth funding provided to the State under the Tasmanian Forest Agreement. This is a particularly appropriate use of these funds as they will help to grow – rather than shut down – our forest industries; creating jobs rather than ending them. We are pleased to support this project, and commend all involved in their work to seek a new and exciting future direction for our forest industries," Mr Hodgman said.