NZ Report Backs Biomass for ‘Fuel Switch’ in Manufacturing

99% of Northland's manufacturing needs could be met through forest-based biomass, if the NZ government invests in infrastructure development and local manufacturing

Tue 19 Mar 24


Forest biomass could hold the key to driving New Zealand’s green economy, with a new government report claiming that woody residues could provide 99% of the energy needed for Northland’s manufacturing industry in what is an age-defending “fuel switch.”

Published by the NZ Government-Backed Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA), the report supports a 99-1 mix of energy between biomass and electricity and highlights the potential for unutilised forestry residues to reduce regional reliance on fossil fuels.

According to Matt Pedersen, Northland Regional Member for CFG Forest Managers, the report provides “forestry with an economically viable outlet for the fibre in new or existing biofuel systems,” adding that “scale (for biomass investment) will be the largest driver of the viability of new projects.”

The report, titled the Northland Regional Energy Transition Accelerator (RETA) report, has input from the Northland Inc Regional Economic Development Agency, Transpower, Top Energy, and Northpower, local biomass suppliers and forest owners, electricity generators and retailers, and medium—to large-scale industrial energy users.

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Biomass generation is a key focus of the NZ Government’s  Forestry and Wood Processing Industry Transformational Plan. (Photo Credit: Supplied)

According to EECA Group Manager Nicki Sutherland – who was involved in developing the report, “Forestry owners and biomass suppliers in Northland can expect significant demand for wood residues locally as the region looks toward new, lower-emissions energy solutions for industrial processing.”

Ms Sutherland added that “on the energy user side, the tech we need—like biomass boilers that use wood residues for fuel—has been proven and available for several years.”

“When you combine this with the fact that there is a lot of unutilised wood residue in the region’s forest, it is clear there is significant commercial opportunity for wood processors.”

Over the past 12 months, the NZ Government—before and after last year’s election—has looked to biomass as a viable market for forest waste in the wake of Cyclone Gabrielle.

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Last year, the NZ Government supported a six-month study project undertaken by Wood Beca that examined the feasibility of developing a Bio Hub at the Keinleith Mill in Waikato.

Already, it is investing in upgrading the Oji-controlled Keinleith Mill – near Tokoroa – considered one of NZ’s most important assets – which could see the mill become a Bio Hub for the North Island.

The report analysed 18 sites in the region, spanning diary, industrial, and commercial. These sites consume 4471 terajoules (TJ) of process heat energy, primarily from coal, and 262,000 tonnes per year of CO2e emissions, with the majority—147,000 tonnes—from burning coal.

For Ms Sutherland, the report’s focus – the culmination of phase one of the programme – is the critical role of fuel-switching decisions and demand reduction in enabling fuel switching. 

She said the report also recognises the importance of demand reduction and thermal efficiency measures for reducing energy consumption and “right-sizing the boiler investment”, affecting decision-making around fuel switching.

For Vaughan Cooper, the Head of Investment and Infrastructure for  Northland Inc., the report gives the local energy users and suppliers the confidence to move forward and find opportunities to work together.

“It can be a bit daunting trying to work out where to start with your approach to clean energy use, renewable choices and carbon implications and how these can be built into your business operations,” he said before adding that “it highlights opportunities to create greater resilience amongst some of Northland’s key sectors, such as forestry, through areas for potential diversification.”

Global multinationals – including Bluesope – use biomass technology to “future-proof” green energy sources.

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BlueScope partnered with the University of Wollongong (WOW) and the Australian Energy Agency (ARENA) to explore potential pathways to decarbonise the steelmaking process at Port Kembla Steel Works. (Photo Credit: Supplied)

Last year, Wood Central reported that Bluescope was working with the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) and the University of Wollongong to create charcoal from biochar to transition from traditional steelmaking to ‘green steel production.’

David Scott, general manager for Australian Steel Manufacturing, said, “The supply chain does not exist.” He added,” We need to continue to explore opportunities to develop a supply chain of biochar in the future.”

According to Dr Elizabeth Heeg, CEO of the New Zealand Forest Owners Association, investing in domestic manufacturing and better biomass utilisation could be the key to lowering emissions by more than 54 million over the next 25 years.

“If we increase domestic processing and use biomass more efficiently,” Dr Heeg said, adding that “the ITS (Insitute of Technology and Polytechnics) estimates New Zealand could lower its projected carbon emissions by fifty-four million tonnes by 2050.”


  • Jason Ross

    Jason Ross, publisher, is a 15-year professional in building and construction, connecting with more than 400 specifiers. A Gottstein Fellowship recipient, he is passionate about growing the market for wood-based information. Jason is Wood Central's in-house emcee and is available for corporate host and MC services.


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