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Solid Energy supports call for tech investment

26 September 2005

Solid Energy supports call for more technology investment

Coal and biofuels producer, Solid Energy New Zealand Ltd, says the country needs to invest substantially and soon in new adoption and adaptation of energy technology, or risk repeating past mistakes.

The company was commenting on a Business Council for Sustainable Development report into the country’s energy options over the next 50 years. The report says that energy technology is expected to develop significantly between now and 2050, but that as much of it is not yet commercialised or widely available, there needs to be an emphasis on research and development.

Solid Energy, Chief Executive Officer, Dr Don Elder, says: “With the demise of Maui we knew the end was coming, but put off dealing with the problem. Similarly, we have little time to make the transition to a more balanced energy future. The lesson of Maui is to take action early.”

Dr Elder says that investing some or all of any carbon tax revenue into adoption and adaptation of energy technology would be one obvious option.

“While New Zealand does not have the research capability or resources to go it alone, it can co-invest and partner with others, and pick up and enhance technology that will work for us locally.”

He also says that while the research contribution New Zealand makes needs to be lifted substantially, it should also be broadly based.

“Some might say that the only research we adopt should be in renewables. What this report shows is that putting all our eggs into one basket would be very risky. New Zealand needs to keep as many options open as possible. We need to think of what is sustainable economically as well as environmentally. This report confirms what is already widely recognised - that coal will be an essential part of a balanced energy portfolio for New Zealand, and is a key bridge to a long-term sustainable future.

Dr Elder says the country needs to take a fresh look at coal for other reasons too. “Coal can be transformed into a wide variety of gases, liquids and chemicals for transport fuel, energy and industrial inputs, and can be used in conjunction with biofuels such as wood waste.”

“New Zealand’s huge reserves of coal also give us a strategic energy asset in an uncertain world and one in which oil is becoming scarcer and more risky to obtain.”

“And Solid Energy is putting its money where its mouth is,” says Dr Elder.

“We are taking a leading role in the applying research into alternative uses for coal, and have committed millions of dollars already to coal technology development projects.”

The key components of Solid Energy’s current research and technology programme are:

- Coal seam gas
Solid Energy is investigating in the extraction of methane trapped in deep coal seams of the North Huntly and Rotowaro coalfields. The potential could be as much as 300 PJ. Five pilot wells will be sunk in 2006. A decision on whether to continue with the commercial production of coal seam gas could be made by the beginning of 2007.

- Carbon sequestration
Sequestration is the capture and storage of carbon dioxide (CO2). This issue is a planetary ‘must’ as coal provides 40% of the world’s energy. New Zealand is well placed for CO2 storage, with old oil and gas fields such as Maui and Kapuni likely potential reservoirs, and a track record in the oil industry of injecting CO2 into depleted fields to aid final extraction of hydrocarbons. Solid Energy is a partner in an A$11 million trans-Tasman project to explore CO2 sequestration options, including a pilot gasfield storage project.

- Hydrogen
Solid Energy is supporting a major research project, funded through the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology (FORST), to develop and demonstrate production of hydrogen from the vast Southland lignite resources.

- Gasification
Gasification involves partial burning of the coal while injecting steam, producing synthetic gas. The gas can be used to generate electricity, to make transport fuel and a range of other products. Solid Energy is researching the potential for gasification of New Zealand coal resources.

- Biofuels
Solid Energy has created a pelletised fuel business using waste wood. The business, ‘Nature’s Flame’, markets wood pellet fires and pellet fuel, with pellet mills in Rotorua and Rolleston. It currently supplies the residential market but will move into the industrial sector in 2006. It is assessing the viability of wood pellet microgeneration and of residential central heating systems.

- Environmental research
Solid Energy has a wide variety of research projects underway aimed at minimising the effects of coal mining on the environment. They include research into the rehabilitation of old mine sites, capping overburden to prevent acid rock drainage and improved water quality management.


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