Why is it needed?
To make charcoal which is taken to a silicon metal production plant at Lithgow. The company says that silicon from this plant “will be used in the production of solar cells, silicon chips and as an alloy for producing lighter and stronger metals (for example alloy wheels and engine blocks) as well as hundreds of other high quality silicon applications”.
Where is it?
The plant site is about 4 km south of Mogo, just off the Princes Highway after the Old Mossy Point Road and before Bay Removals. See map. The proposed site is surrounded by rural residences and less than three km from Broulee. From its eastern boundary, it is:
- 2.2 km from Carrol College
- 2.6 km from Broulee Primary School
- 2.6 km from Broulee Pre-school
- 2.9 km from Broulee Retirement Village
- 2.5 km from the proposed Anglican College
There have been two previous development applications for a charcoal plant in NSW, one at Dubbo, the other at Gunnedah – both were rejected by the community.
How big is it?
The site area is 73 hectares, which is equivalent to 107 rugby league football fields. A quarry operation will continue in a 16 hectare area within the site. There will also be vegetative buffers within the site.
Role of Eurobodalla Shire Council
Documents which the Charcoalition have obtained show that the Eurobodalla Shire Council was involved in early negotiations with the company and the State Government. Obtain some insight into why the Mogo site was chosen and the involvement of Eurobodalla Shire Council and the NSW State Government – read the Eurobodalla Sun newspaper articles.
However, following intense community pressure the council is now totally opposed to having the plant anywhere in the shire.
Click here to see the initial presentation made to council by opponents of the plant.
It will have 5 chimneys about 33 metres (11 storeys) high. The plant will operate 24 hours a day for 350 days of the year. Any toxins produced by this plant may fall many kilometres away, depending on weather conditions. See map showing expected smoke drift patterns.
The charcoal plant retorts will operate 24 hrs/day, dispatch, delivery and sawmill operations will probably only go for 5 and a half or 6 days a week.
The company says that all of the timber required will come from existing logging residue and that no more trees will be felled as a part of the charcoal logging. The reality is that experience all around the country has shown that high volume, low value woodchip and charcoal operations entrench intensive industrial operations and generate major additional logging. At the charcoal plant in WA – what is on the trucks coming from the forests there? LOGS, not residue! The company claims that “if saw log quality timber is delivered to the [Mogo] facility these logs will be stockpiled for sale to the local sawmills for processing into the local timber market”.
It will consume a massive 200,000 tons (there are conflicting formulae for converting this to cubic metres, it could be from 160,000 to 260,000) of mainly Ironbark, Woollybutt, Bloodwood and Grey Box from the south east forests each year. Truck movements at the plant site will increase by at least 70 trucks per day, transporting timber to the plant and charcoal to the Lithgow Silicon plant. These trucks, mostly the large log-toting type, will be travelling through Mogo, Moruya and Batemans Bay. Charcoal-laden trucks, and many log trucks will use the Kings Highway.
Charcoal production at the plant will be 30,000 to 35,000 tonnes of charcoal per annum.
The company describes the operation as follows (summarised from a tape recording of a talk by Alan Townsend , a technical consultant associated with the company, given at the public meeting on 26 September 2001):
The company aims to produce highest quality/low cost silicon in world. The best possible reductant is needed, ie hardwood charcoal. Timber will come into the plant, be weighed, unloaded, chopped/docked (there will be some saw noise but this will be inside a building). The cut timber will then air dry. Retorts need wood with =<25% moisture content or extra fuel is needed to carbonise the charcoal (LPG will be used).
A skip bridge will feed wood into the top of the retort (drying chamber) it then drops to a carbonising chamber. Charcoal is then cooled then loaded onto trucks. Most charcoal fines will be filtered out. Lambiotte gas rinsing technology from Belgium will be used. Some gas from charcoal is fed to top of retort and used to heat the wood, rest is cooled with water which will pick up some contaminants.
Water is recycled so to stop contaminants building up, water is bled into biological treatment tanks where bacteria break down contaminants. Cleaned water is fed back into cooling system.
The charcoalition is not convinced about the effectiveness of this biological treatment. We understand that there is a toxic and corrosive tarry sludge which remains in these tanks that will have to be disposed of.
The plant site will contain ponds and will be surrounded by bunding to retain run-off from the site and leachates from the wood. Any overflow or seepage would run into adjoining wetlands which feed into Candlagan Creek.
Sawdust is also produced because the logs are cut into 100mm lengths. There is a suggestion that the sawdust could be burned to generate power, or used elsewhere. The company says that between 20,000 and 25,000 tonnes of sawdust will have to be disposed of each year.
Also produced at the charcoal plant is “fluxwood”, which is used in the Lithgow plant – more trucks are required to transport this.
The factory requires a substantial water supply – about 1 megalitre a week. Some of this may come from the Tomakin treatment works, the rest probably coming from our water supply.
Are there alternatives?
- CSIRO have developed a method of making charcoal from coal
- Recycled waste wood from Sydney could be used (eg from building demolitions)
- An even better method has recently been developed in England whereby titanium (and soon silicon and other metals) can be made using elecrochemical means using NO carbon reductant.