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Eco-Friendly Energy On Its Way

9 December 2003

Eco-friendly energy on its way

Four new research programmes are to receive substantial funding to investigate environmentally-friendly ways to supply energy to New Zealanders.

The Foundation for Research, Science and Technology has approved around $6m, to be spread over four years, for the new research projects as part of its new energy technologies investment, starting in July 2004.

The research includes wave power generation, the conversion of wood waste into energy, turning waste pond sludge into useful gas and the development of an innovative and cost-effective wind turbine.

With New Zealand's energy use increasing every year, the Foundation was looking for proposals that would pioneer new technologies for creating renewable energy technologies for power supply throughout the country.

The new research will build on the Foundation's existing investments in this area, which brings the total investment in developing new energy technologies to about $5.5m per annum.

Foundation Reference Group Chair George Hooper says the successful programmes responded well to what the Foundation was seeking.

"The projects selected bought together strong research teams with good user connections and partnerships," he said.

However, the Foundation was concerned that a number of declined proposals continued to focus on resource definition or market analysis without the necessary involvement of engineering or technology understanding.

"If New Zealand is to advance the application of international best practice in emerging energy technologies, so as to meet future supply needs, there needs to be more attention given to developing engineering science capability with the research effort more focused on prototype development and novel applications," said Dr Hooper.

"New Zealand must lose its No 8 fencing wire philosophy and begin to look to the development of young or emerging engineering talent capable of taking the new international technology platforms through to application. This, in turn, requires an increase in the number of research engineers and technologists within our science system. The Schools of Engineering within New Zealand's tertiary institutions should be taking a lead in these fields."

The details of the successful research programmes are as follows:

The University of Canterbury will receive funding to develop a system that uses readily available woody biomass (such as forest industry wastes) for the generation of electricity and thermal energy in New Zealand.

The technology converts woody biomass into a gas, which then powers large turbines to produce power. This technique, called the biomass integrated gasification combined cycle (BIGCC) system, has numerous advantages including high efficiency (over 80%), low emission and flexibility to produce electrical and thermal energy.

To transfer this technology to New Zealand, studies are required to evaluate, improve and optimise the system. New technologies will be developed for medium-scale energy plants using radiata pine residues.

The development of cost-effective Wave Energy Converters (WEC) in New Zealand to generate electricity will be the focus of a four-year project led by Industrial Research Limited. Wave power is a potentially important renewable resource and the researchers estimate that New Zealand's near-shore wave energy exceeds the current electricity consumption by over 40 times. The WEC design will include novel gearless conversion and "smart technology" adaptive control. This technology has the potential to achieve a breakthrough in electricity generation from renewable resources and capture key intellectual property for New Zealand. The National Institute for Atmosphere and Water (NIWA) and Wellington-based company Power Projects Limited will play vital roles in the programme.

NIWA will also be leading its own energy research programme that will look at developing a system to turn treatment pond sludge into renewable energy. The energy recovery system will have wide application in rural communities, farms and industries, which already use ponds to treat organic wastes. The system aims to enhance anaerobic (non-oxygen) treatment in these ponds which would increase biogas production to levels where thermal and electrical energy production is economical and, in addition, would increase wastewater treatment efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas and odour emissions. In addition, the earthen pond-based anaerobic treatment system is affordable and can be incorporated into existing pond infrastructures.

UNITEC, in Auckland, will research a new wind generation system that is energy efficient, economic and environmentally suitable for urban or remote generation.

Based on key design changes to a new twisted cylinder wind turbine and its integration with domestic energy systems, it aims to achieve cost, return and energy production characteristics attractive to a domestic or commercial environment.

Although intended for installation within New Zealand, it is ideally suited to any other (windy) environment, to remote areas without grid supply, or to regions affected by short or medium-term power supply disruption.


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