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Money seen in the willows

Farmers who balk at switching to dairying have an opportunity to try something that won’t pug paddocks, foul nearby waterways or otherwise invite environmental condemnation.


Singapore-based Pure Power is promoting plans for planting and coppicing willows to produce bio-fuels and a range of bio-products for use in manufacturing paints, resins, adhesives and bio-plastics.

On the downside, it’s easier to talk about milk production than about “lignocellulosic technology.”

But Green Party co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons is “a great fan of wood”.

Addressing the Bioenergy Knowledge Centre late in 2006, she ventured that woody biomass could supply about 8 per cent of the country’s energy needs by around 2010.

“Woody biomass in the form of forest harvesting residue is one of New Zealand’s largest untapped energy resources,” she enthused.

It contributed 30 to 40 per cent of primary energy in countries such as Sweden, Austria and Finland – “is there anything we can learn from that?”

Obviously, yes.

Carbon News has reported an “international renewable energy company with strong roots in New Zealand” is looking for farmers to plant willow for biofuels and bioproducts.
Pure Power’s chairman and chief executive David Milroy, who was in the country last week, told farmers about the potential for growing salix (a species of willow) to be processed using the revolutionary lignocellulosic technology developed in New Zealand.
Lignocellulosics is the science governing the conversion of plant biomass to biofuels and other bioproducts.

Pure Power picked up the core of its lignocellulosic team when it bought BioJoule, a subsidiary of Genesis Research & Development, last year.

Under its plans, crops of salix will provide the feed-stock for Pure Power to apply the patented technology to produce biofuels and an array of other products.

Salix cuttings will be ready for commercial farming in 2009; a pilot processing plant is scheduled to be built in Asia by mid-2009 and the first refinery is expected to open by the end of next year.

Genesis Research founder Jim Watson, described as “Pure Power’s Energy Evangelist”, is helping to spread the word. He reckons the home-grown biofuel technology has the potential to create a primary industry with the power to transform the economy.

The company is pitching for converts particularly on poorer-quality land around Lake Taupo, where farmers are under pressure to reduce nutrient flows into the lake from animal wastes and fertilisers.

Prime Minister Helen Clark has declared her belief that New Zealand has the potential to lead the world in renewable energy.

Her government aims to generate 90 percent of electricity from renewable sources by 2025 (a target described by Energy Minister David Parker as “readily achievable”, although a National government might move it further out).

But the support is more rhetorical than monetary.

Addressing a Forestry Industry Engineers’ Association conference last year, Energy Minister Parker referred his audience to a government programme aimed at increasing the use of wood as a renewable fuel, to boost both the share of renewables in New Zealand’s energy system, and to open up another income stream for foresters.

He said $2.5 million was dedicated for bioenergy projects over five years.

Big deal – $700 million has been allocated for new research and development in food production over the next decade.

By BOB EDLIN – | Wednesday, 16 July 2008