A United States biotechnology company has announced it will build a biorefinery in Queensland to make cosmetics out of sugar cane.

Amyris Biotechnologies is a renewable products company that engineers organisms to make alternatives to petroleum, plant and animal-based products, such as specialty chemicals, flavours and fragrances, cosmetics ingredients and pharmaceuticals.

Based in San Diego, it was the first company to develop a process to convert plant sugars into a cheap anti-malarial, and already has a biorefinery in Brazil.

Chief executive John Melo said the company planned to make Queensland the base for its industrial biotechnology hub in Southeast Asia.

“Like all our new projects, this factory is expected to be sold out when it starts operating with agreements to supply our current partners in China and other Asian markets.

“Queensland offers an excellent location option for Amyris with its favourable business climate, extensive sugar industry and geographic proximity to these markets.”

Bundaberg, Mackay and Townsville are on the shortlist of potential locations for the plant, which will be decided in the next six months.

The company aims to produce 23,000 tonnes a year of its sugar cane-based ingredient called farnesene, which is used in a range products including cosmetics, fragrances, nutraceuticals, polymers, and lubricants.

It will be supported through funding from the Queensland Government, as part its push to develop a $1 billion export-oriented biotechnology and bioproducts sector.

“The funding from the Queensland Government along with the operating expertise and sugar cane base of our local partner make this factory possible and enable savings from our current production in Brazil and the associated shipping costs,” Mr Melo said.

He said if the plant began producing in 2020 for Southeast Asian markets, could generate $60-$80 million in annual revenue, paying back investors in two to three years.

In San Diego for the BIO2017 International Convention, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said it could create as many as 70 jobs.

“The Queensland Government’s funding and support for biorefinery projects will create high-value jobs and investment in regional Queensland by using renewable feedstocks to create biofuel and other bioproducts.”

‘Tremendous opportunity’ for regional economies

Canegrowers Queensland Chairman Paul Schembri said while he did not have a lot of detail about the project, on face-value it was a ‘tremendous opportunity’ for the regions.

“They are talking about locating the biorefinery at either Bundaberg, Mackay or Townsville, so there’s an opportunity for a regional economy,” he said.

“It’s consistent with our view that the sugar industry in the future will not only provide sugar crystal for export to the world, but we see unlimited opportunities for value adding and diversification out of the cane plant.”