Industry eyes mega wood-fuel plant
The biofuels industry has struggled to gain traction at government level, but there may be some light at the end of the tunnel.
Amega pulp-and-paper plant producing biofuel for the domestic market could be on the cards.
The wood industry is pooling its resources to investigate the viability of various bioenergy options for the sector in New Zealand, drawing on work done in Canada.
Back in March, American forestry and bioenergy expert Dr Richard Phillips told the Forestwood conference in Wellington that New Zealand had a once-in-a-decade opportunity to build a five million-cubic-metre mill to meet demand from China.
And that, he said, would provide a golden opportunity to build a bioenergy plant to convert lignin and hemicellulose which are produced as part of the pulp process to either biodiesel or bioethanol, adding a new revenue stream for negligible cost.
Forest Owners’ Association chief executive David Rhodes says that such a large-scale development is a possibility.
His organisation is working with the Wood Processers’ Association, Scion, NZTE, the Prime Manufacturers’ Association, and the Ministry of Primary Industries to identify bioenergy-fromwood technologies suitable for this country.
Working under the Woodco tag, the group is adapting similar research undertaken in Canada for New Zealand conditions.
Rhodes says that the research had led to industrial development in Canada and should do the same here.
“We’re looking at what the most profitable bioenergy opportunities are, creating a palette for companies that a looking at this,” he said.
“We have to get our heads around the bioenergy opportunities or get left standing in the road.”
Rhodes says that while the country is a long way from adopting Phillips’ proposal, it is the type of thing the industry has to look at.
“Once you get to huge scale, especially in a greenfields project, you’ve got to be pretty sure about your markets and your resources,” he said.
“A lot of the resource in New Zealand is being utilised by major processors now, but it is definitely a possibility.”
Meanwhile Norske Skog, Carter Holt Harvey and Air New Zealand are among companies that showed their hands at a bioenergy conference in Rotorua this month.
Bioenergy Association executive officer Brian Cox says it is a sign that a big change is happening in this country.
“For the first time, big industry is talking openly about what it is doing in bioenergy,” says Cox.
“They are all looking forward and are talking about the projects they are working on. We’ve moved on from just talking about it as a good idea.”
Cox, whose organisation has battled for years to get bioenergy adopted on a large scale in New Zealand, says that the current economic conditions are forcing companies to look for efficiencies and better use of their resources and processes.
“It’s exciting,” he said. “We are in a transition.”