Drinking water grown by cane farmers on the Northern Rivers is expected to tempt a new generation of eco-conscious consumer both here in Australia and overseas.
New South Wales Sugar Milling Co-operative this week signed an arrangement with Mildura-based AquaBotanical to harvest the water trapped in sugar cane with a patented process to be piloted at Condong mill.
CEO Chris Connors expects a first year commercial output of 11 million litres, doubling quickly and expanding three-fold as Broadwater and Harwood mills come on-line.
The mutually beneficial agreement is a game changer for the sugar processor, with AquaBotanical technology saving energy and supplying another income stream.
Cane juice - 60 per cent water - is normally boiled, using steam energy under vacuum to reduce the liquid to crystal. However AquaBotanical's patented technology - with Sunshine Sugar holding the only licence in Australia - uses filters and membranes to reduce concentration by half for a tenth of the cost.
"We have our product into China already and in the next five years we can see huge export opportunities for clean water," said AquaBotanical's Dr Bruce Kambouris. "China in particular will need 5 billion litres of bottled water in the next five years and they want Australian water in particular.
"Australia has the potential to supply but a drop in the ocean to the predicted demand from the Asia Pacific region."
Evaporation is still required to finish the job of making sugar, but with this process there is now a volume of purified water - 100,000 litres an hours is being proposed in an AquaBotanical agreement with an Indian mill - with the fainest shadow of its source available as an earth-friendly form of bottled water.
In the case of Sunshine Sugar's venture, water is harvested off farm, from this year's rain, rather than from sub-artesian aquifers that take a long time to recharge. That message is certainly a marketing hook for a new generation of consumers.
In India's case, where corporations must return 2pc of profits to the people, there is an opportunity to distribute clean water.
On the Northern Rivers, Sunshine Sugar CEO Chris Connors is so optimistic about the agreement that he can see the future including a bottling plant with the potential for up to eight jobs, if Dr Bruce Kambouris' predictions about Asian demand come true.
So far there is no government money involved in the initiative and Mr Connors says he prefers it that way.
Innovation winners five years' running in the Global Bottled Water Awards, AquaBotanical has a proven track record making clean drinking water from what remains of juice concentrate.
For NSW Sugar Milling Co-operative, this agreement to produce bio water from Northern Rivers' refineries is yet another string to the bow of market diversity designed to help cushion the co-operative from world market pressure.
"This project is another part of our diversification program which is targeting the sustainability of our industry and growers," said CEO Chris Connors. "It follows on the heels of our Low GI sugar which is developing strongly." said Mr Connors.