In­dus­try eyes mega wood-fuel plant

Element - - Business -

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.”

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