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New Zealand forges ahead with biofuels

It’s hoped a new biofuels project will be a shot in the arm for the forestry industry as well as timber and paper mills in New Zealand. Sources: Newstalk, Scoop, Global Times, Radio New Zealand

Forest owners are hopeful that the project designed to convert forest waste into liquid biofuels will provide growers and mills with extra income streams.

In what is known as the ‘Stump to Pump’ project, the government has approved NZ$6.75 million in funding to be matched by partners Norske Skog and Z Energy.

The NZ$13.5 million project will be based at Norske Skog’s Tasman mill in Kawerau.

The initial 14-month study will examine the feasibility and economics of making biofuel from sawdust, bark and harvest residue, which currently has little or no value. If successful, a test plant will then be built in Kawerau.

Forest Owners Association chief executive David Rhodes said it would be a boost for the forest sector generally.

“For the mill for producing it, clearly it’s another line that they can extract revenue from but also it just gives another revenue stream for forest growers as well,” he said.

Rhodes said the project had been on the cards for a while.

“So to get the green light I think it’s pretty exciting. New Zealand’s got good potential in this area so it’s great that we can actually see that happening here.”

“Forest owners have been working with the Bioenergy Association for several years with the aim of getting government to recognise the opportunities that lie in bioenergy. This is a significant step forward.”

Rhodes said that in uncertain times, investors are unwilling to invest in new forest planting unless they can see higher returns than they are getting now.

For their part, timber and paper mills face stiff competition from overseas log buyers and mills that have much lower cost structures, or enjoy government subsidies of one kind or another.

“If this material can be used commercially, then we can maximize the value of every tree harvested to the benefit of our primary sector and our economy,” said MPI acting director-general Roger Smith in a statement.

“If this technology can be commercialized, the estimated economic benefit for New Zealand over the next 20 to 25 years is an annual increase in GDP of up to 1 billion NZ dollars and the creation of 1200 direct jobs,” he said.

The biofuel plant could potentially process around 50,000 tonnes of forest waste per annum.

The Bioenergy Association said the project was well timed.

Two years ago, the Association criticised the Government for cutting a grant scheme for biodiesel production.

But executive director Brian Cox said the scale and timing of the forestry biofuel project make it a better bet and the project is getting closer to becoming economic.