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The Port of Mackay has recorded its second-best results for financial year trade throughput after topping three million tonnes despite the global economic impact of COVID-19.

Transport and Main Roads Minister Mark Bailey made the announcement, with the port recording 3.17 million throughput tonnes in 2019-20, supporting jobs and industry in the region.

“COVID-19 has impacted global economies and Queensland hasn’t been immune,” Mr Bailey said.

“What we’ve seen at our ports, however, is that thanks to a strong health response we’ve been able to continue facilitating trade.

“And because Queensland continues to manage the health response, it means we are well placed to continue implementing our plan for economic recovery, which includes investing in Mackay and our ports.”

Member for Mackay Julieanne Gilbert said it had been an encouraging year for break bulk cargo at Mackay in particular, with strong appeal for agricultural and mining-related cargo.

“In 2019-20 we had 11 Roll-on-Roll off (RORO) vessels stop at the port. In total, 96,000 of throughput tonnes of break bulk cargo came through the port destined for both Central Queensland and beyond,” she said.

“This total is more than 30,000 tonnes up on the 2018-19 financial year. What is most encouraging, is the diversity we’re seeing in the type of cargo coming through the port from destinations including North America, Europe and across Australia.”

The 3.17 million tonnes is just shy of the 2012-13 record of 3.29 million tonnes. For petroleum, it was a record high year, with 1.67 million tonnes (two billion litres) of fuel trade facilitated through the port.
A new strategy aims to position Townsville and North Queensland to make the most of Defence development over the next decade.

Townsville City Council today adopted the Townsville North Queensland Defence Strategy 2020-2030.

“For the first time the region has a well-structured unified strategy to guide logical and meaningful engagement around Defence investment in North Queensland,” Mayor Jenny Hill said.

“This strategy will allow council to influence high pay-off opportunities to deliver mutually beneficial outcomes for our city through Defence investment.

“It represents the considered work of our Defence committee partners including the Port of Townsville, Townsville Enterprise, the Townsville Airport in consultation with our strategic Defence advisor, Lieutenant General (Retired) John Caligari.”

Lt Gen Caligari said Townsville was an important location for Australia’s defence and national security.

“The strategy endorsed by council today ensures our city is aligned with, supportive of, and benefits from the efforts of all levels of government to enhance national security,” Lt Gen Caligari said.

Cr Hill said Townsville and North Queensland was already benefitting from planned infrastructure projects which would increase both regional Defence capabilities and make the case for additional Defence capability investment.

These projects include the extension of the runway at RAAF Base Townsville, the expansion of the Port of Townsville, the Defence Supply Chain and Manufacturing Hub and new Defence infrastructure associated with the Australian Singapore Military Training Initiative (ASMTI).

“Our vision is to be a preferred location for Armed Forces training globally, an ADF home base of choice and Defence’s Joint Forward Mounting Base will be pursued through five key strategic goals,” Cr Hill said.

The five strategic goals are:

  • Position and promote the Townsville Region as a strategic location for Defence capability and as a posting preference for Australian Defence Force personnel and families;
  • Cultivate a capable and responsive local Defence industry aligned to Sovereign Industrial Capability priorities and future Defence capability programs;
  • Support and enable opportunities for local industry to access regional, national and global Defence supply chains;
  • Encourage collaboration between Defence, Defence Industry, Government and Academia, focusing on research development and innovation; and
  • Develop strategic infrastructure that supports the ongoing and future needs of Defence, the local industry and the community.

The electric vehicle battery market is being supercharged during the COVID-19 crisis, and a Townsville project is poised to make the most of the hot demand.

Newly appointed Pure Minerals chief executive officer Stephen Grocott said the company’s TECH battery chemicals project was well-placed to enter the fray.

It skipped the steps involved in getting a mining operation off the ground by tapping established ore sources in New Caledonia and drew on a supply and logistics chain already in place for the mothballed Queensland Nickel operation, he said.

“We can move quite quickly for what is a sophisticated manufacturing operation,” Dr Grocott said.

He was commenting after Tesla’s Elon Musk made a plea this week for mining companies to get nickel operations into production to meet the looming demand in the battery market.

Dr Grocott said also governments overseas, particularly in Europe, were fast-tracking the transition to electric vehicles with investment linked to COVID-19 stimulus measures.

“The coronavirus crisis is actually accelerating things for our industry,” he said.

The $554 million battery chemicals plant planned for Townsville is expected to have annual production of 26,398 tonnes of nickel sulphate, 3097 tonnes of cobalt sulphate, 327,665 wet metric tonnes of haematite and 20,079 tonnes of magnesia.

Pure Minerals recently completed prefeasibility work to add HPA (high purity alumina) – also known as synthetic sapphire – to the TECH (Townsville Energy Chemicals Hub) stream.

“HPA is a massive growth market for LED lighting and for electric vehicle batteries,” Dr Grocott said.

“The good thing about the TECH project is we will produce very high purity at a very low cost as a by-product of our process.”

Pure Minerals is continuing refurbishment work on a pilot plant in Perth to allow it to complete process verification work later this year, as well as progressing engineering studies for the Townsville facility.

Dr Grocott said the company was also continuing talks with potential investors and offtake partners.

Pure Minerals aims to be in production in Townsville within two to three years, and Dr Grocott said the plant would employ about 130 people in operational roles and approximately 1000 during construction.

It will process nickel laterite ore from supply partners in New Caledonia.

Dr Grocott is due to present at the Connecting Industry Conference, hosted by RIM, in August.

He said his message would be that the project was meeting a credible market, with technology that made the most of the resource and eliminated waste while providing highly skilled jobs for the region.

“The global market for batteries for electric vehicles particularly but also storage is absolutely mindboggling. It is staggering how huge this growth is,” he said.

“There are electric vehicle plants being built all over the world, there are battery plants being built all over the world. What’s missing is the supply of the high purity feedstocks into those plants.”  

Townsville battery factory developer Magnis Energy Technologies has announced a new type of extra-fast-charge battery touted as a potential game changer for electric vehicle manufacturers.

The company’s partner, Charge CCCV (C4V), has developed and built advanced lithium ion battery battery cell technology that can significantly imporve the cycling life of commercial batteries.

The batteries achieved more than 85 per cent charge in six minutes, Magnis said. C4V is now developing a 25-50 kWh pack for demonstration to EV manufacturers.

“We look forward to producing further batteries with continued improvements for this fast-growing sector, with the aim to eventually deploy C4V’s proprietary technology at giga scale in New York and Australia,” C4V president Dr Shailesh Upreti said.

Magnis and C4V are part of the Imperium3 Townsville venture proposing a 18 GWh lithium-ion battery cell manufacturing facility in the city’s Lansdown industrial estate.

Total construction cost for the plant is estimated at more than $3 billion, however the project would be phased over three stages of 6 GWhs each, reducing the upfront capital expenditure to $1.12 billion for the first stage.

Magnis chairman Fran Poullas said fast charging usually went hand in hand with batteries degarding quickly.

But the C4V results using an unoptimised cell were exciting, and would improve further as the cell was optimised.

“This news is highly encouraging for the global battery industry and for every EV manufacturer,” he said.

“To be able to charge batteries within six minutes would be a game changer and it’s comforting to know that Magnis and C4V are at the forefront of this and other battery technologies.”

The company has also completed engineering work for a New York-based gigafactory.

Red River Resources has commenced mine design and scheduling activities for the Liontown gold project in North Queensland.

It is focusing on a combined open pit and underground development with a conceptual mine life of more than 10 years.

The Liontown project has a current mineral resource of 4.1 million tonnes at 0.6per cent copper, 1.9 per cent lead, 5.9 per cent zinc, 1.1 g/t gold and 29
g/t silver.

The site is about 32km in a direct line from Red River’s Thalanga operations and 107km by road.

Red River Resources said the trucking route by existing road would consist of 21km by unsealed road from Liontown to the Gregory Development Road, then 86km by sealed road (Gregory Development Road,
Flinders Highway, Thalanga Operations Access Road) to Thalanga.

As part of the ongoing development activities, the company recently took the opportunity to reclaim old tailings located at the Liontown site.

About 13,000 tonnes of tailings were trucked to the Thalanga operation and processed through the mill to produce 475 DMT tonnes of gold concentrate grading 62.3 g/t gold, 197 g/t silver and 12.8 per cent copper.

Red River’s Thalanga operation is located about 65km south-west of Charters Towers and has a workforce of about 150 people, including contractors.

It recently passed the milestone of milling 1.0Mt of ore since Red River restarted operations at the site in September 2017.

The Mackay-Whitsunday region is building its standing as a major Australian aquaculture hub with $257 million of investment by Tassal Group set to create up to 1000 jobs.

An $85 million expansion program is underway at Tassal’s Gregory River Prawn Farm north of Proserpine.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said approvals for Stage 4 were recently granted, paving the way for work that would create 100 construction jobs and boost operational jobs.

“And in further good news, today I can announce the Coordinator-General has declared Tassal Group’s $172 million project at Exmoor Station, north-west of Mackay, a coordinated project which means a full environmental impact assessment (EIS) of the project can now begin,” she said.

“If approved this project will follow the full development of the Proserpine expansion and would create Queensland’s largest land-based aquaculture facility.”

The Exmoor Station Prawn Farm is proposed within the Mackay aquaculture development area (ADA), one of six ADAs designated by the Palaszczuk Government and announced in January 2019 to attract growth in aquaculture.

Tassal Group head of supply chain and commercial services Ben Daley said the company was pleased to be expanding Queensland’s aquaculture industry, creating economic and jobs growth.

“Queensland produces some of Australia’s best seafood and we’re confident there’s a bright future in increasing locally grown produce,” he said.

“We plan to meet growing demand from Australian consumers as well as selected overseas markets for a great tasting, quality product.

“It’s predicted that by 2026, the Mackay-Whitsunday Tassal Group facilities could be producing a combined output of about 10,000 tonnes of prawns annually to help meet growing domestic demand and to further develop export markets.”

Projects and jobs

  • 100 new jobs are expected to start flowing during Stage 4 construction of Tassal Group’s expansion of its existing prawn farm at Proserpine now through to mid-2022.
  • Another 60 ongoing operational jobs are expected to be added to the existing local workforce of 244 when production reaches full capacity, set for August 2022.
  • Tassal Group estimates Exmoor Station Prawn Farm could create another 100 construction jobs following the completion of Proserpine farm expansion and generate 620 operational jobs.