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Renewable Energy Futures: Biomass & Electricity

Renewable Energy Futures: Biomass & Electricity

The utilisation of woody biomass as a fuel source for industrial processing will be vital to meeting New Zealand’s emissions targets, according to a local energy expert. Dr Martin Atkins, Senior Research Fellow with Waikato University’s Energy Research Group, has advised some of New Zealand’s most iconic companies on their path towards lower emissions, from dairy giant, Fonterra, to pulp and paper processor, Oji.

The latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, published earlier this month, has called for ‘rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society”. It states that global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide would need to fall by about 45 % from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching ‘net zero’ around 2050.

Dr Atkins highlighted this report’s finding that emissions reduction cannot be met with efficiency gains alone and he says this means that “fuel-switching options are going to be an important part of emissions reduction so biomass, as a zero emissions source for process heat, is going to have a key role in that transition.”

In New Zealand industrial emissions from heat and industrial processes account for around 15% of New Zealand’s gross greenhouse gases. Dr Atkins believes in the next few years we will see more movement towards large companies fuelling their process plants with biomass.

He identified Fonterra’s Brightwater dairy factory’s recent conversion to co-fire with biomass as the type of trial which will build confidence, and provide learnings which can be applied widely. He sees innovators, like Fonterra, leading a change in industry’s perception around fuel options.

Dr Atkins says it is important to understand an industrial site’s demand profile in deciding which fuel is most cost-effective. For example in meat processing, where temperatures under 100°C are required, renewable electricity, enhanced by modern heat pump technology is an option.

Where processes have higher heat demands, such as in the production of steam, biomass will be the most cost-effective option and Dr Atkins sees it having a key role to play in the future, if barriers like supply concern perceptions were dealt with.

Azwood Energy General Manager, Brook Brewerton, said supply was not the current constraint, but demand was.

“Azwood Energy has been supplying energy for 40 years, and in that time not once have any of our commercial clients run out of energy. Supply is scalable, and the renewable resource is growing on trees and literally rotting on the ground. The IP we hold is replicable across New Zealand.”

Brewerton said as industry and large energy users look to implement a low-emission economy and transition to renewable energy, wood is the obvious choice.

“Azwood are realistic about the need for all technologies to help us reach ‘net zero’ emissions while still making economic sense,” said Brewerton.

“Wood is clearly the best form of carbon neutral, renewable energy for high temperature process heat. However, wood energy in the form of wood pellets and wood chip are also very competitive for low temperature space heating, and many schools, small hospitals and processing facilities are enjoying the lifecycle benefits of wood energy today.”

Azwood Energy

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