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Revamped geothermal laboratories open for business

6 August 2014

Revamped geothermal laboratories open for business after $4M upgrade

New Zealand’s only full service geothermal and groundwater laboratory, unique in the Southern Hemisphere, opened for business this week after a $4 million upgrade.

The 1100 square metre facility, at GNS Science’s Wairakei campus north of Taupo, houses multiple specialist laboratories. This includes the New Zealand Geothermal Analytical Laboratory, the GNS Science Extremophile Laboratory, and other specialist analytical facilities.

There have been laboratories on the site since the 1940s and earlier facilities were integral to the development of the Wairakei Geothermal Power Station in the 1950s and 1960s. More recently, they have played a crucial role in the renaissance of geothermal energy since 2004.

The revamped facility was officially opened today by Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce.

The laboratories had been completely overhauled to maintain GNS Science’s international leadership in providing first-rate analytical services for the geothermal and groundwater industries, said Head of the Geothermal Sciences Department at GNS Science, Greg Bignall.

“The New Zealand Geothermal Analytical Laboratory is without peer in the Southern Hemisphere. Its mix of research and commercial work supports geothermal energy operators in New Zealand, iwi, and regional councils in their geothermal exploration and development initiatives, in environmental monitoring, and also for power station efficiency and consenting needs,” Dr Bignall said.

The investment in the upgrade would ensure the highest scientific standards were available to support the growth of the geothermal energy industry in New Zealand into the future, he said.

Geothermal energy contributes about 15 percent of New Zealand’s baseload electricity generation and scientists believe there is potential to double this by 2025.

As well as servicing the New Zealand geothermal energy industry, the facility assists geothermal energy development in the Philippines, Indonesia, East Africa, Peru, and Chile.

Called the Wilson Building, the facility is home to 15 staff plus PhD students from New Zealand and overseas who benefit from working closely with internationally ranked scientists.

Contained within the facility is the GNS Science Extremophile Laboratory, which has a collection of about 1500 strains of micro-organisms that live in the geothermal and volcanic areas of the central North Island.

The microbes represent New Zealand’s largest and most thoroughly researched collection of extremophiles. GNS Science researchers have collected the micro-organisms from hot springs and other volcanic areas in the Taupo Volcanic Zone over the past 10 years.

The microbes thrive at high temperatures, in highly acidic or strongly alkaline environments, and in high concentrations of heavy metals – conditions that would kill other life forms.

Dr Bignall said research on extremophiles, and their bioactive compounds, had led to exciting developments in applied science.

“Pilot projects have shown that they can benefit a wide range of industrial processes, help remediate contaminated land, and help make a new generation of pharmaceuticals.”

The GNS Science extremophile group had strong industry and scientific linkages both in New Zealand and internationally and was well placed to ensure that New Zealand could benefit when commercial spinoffs arise from this work.

The upgraded Wilson Building is named after pioneer geothermal scientist Stuart Wilson, who was a prominent figure in the development of New Zealand’s geothermal industry for nearly half a century from the 1930s onwards. He was known for exceptional innovation and rigorous scientific methods. Staff working in the upgraded facility are proud to continue his legacy.

Key points:
• The upgrade occurred over 18 months and was done in stages to minimise interruptions to workflow and productivity
• The lab equipment has been upgraded to industry best standards, and there have been accompanying improvements to workflow and procedures
• The 'new' facility is capable of a wider range of analyses and can do them with more precision than before
• It has a higher output, so turnaround times have been reduced
• The NZ Geothermal Analytical Lab (NZGAL) analyses about 8500 fluid and gas samples each year
• The Lab has analysed samples from every geothermal field in New Zealand
• Nine countries routinely send samples to the Lab for analysis
• The Lab can analyse for 30 different elements or compounds, and is capable of other specialist measurements to meet client needs
• Its unique attribute is the combination of sophisticated analyses and expert interpretation of the results. This is invaluable to the geothermal industry in New Zealand.

ENDS

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