Moving to a biofuelled New Zealand

There are a lot of questions about how we might power New Zealand with biofuels. How do we encourage biofuel use? Which biofuels? Where will we grow the feedstock? But despite the lack of clarity and risks around establishing a brand new, large and complex value chain, we know that powering the country with biofuels is within our reach.

The New Zealand Biofuels Roadmap, a new study by Scion’s bioenergy specialists, was released in February 2018. The aim of the roadmap was to present options that would stimulate discussion on biofuels, as a first step to make industry, policy makers and the general public aware of the options, and their advantages and disadvantages.

The roadmap team chose the Bioenergy Value Chain Model (BVCM) to visualise alternative biofuelled futures.  The model was developed by the Energy Technologies Institute in the United Kingdom and modified for use in New Zealand. It considers the entire value chain, from where and when to grow the different feedstocks, which processing technologies, where to site them and which fuels to produce, then balances these variables to find the lowest cost solutions for different scenarios.

They modelled over 50 different scenarios to produce some very interesting findings. In one future scenario, the BVCM model used any combination of feedstocks, technologies and final fuel mix to calculate the lowest cost to achieve 30 per cent substitution of liquid fuels. In this example, greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced by 5 million tonnes per year (compared with 2015 levels), which would be equivalent to removing half the cars off the road and, as a country, we would be more energy independent and be able to cut our oil imports by 30 per cent.

The regions where biofuel feedstocks are grown and processed would also prosper. When limited to growing feedstocks on non-arable land only, the forests in the Gisborne region would need to increase in size by 50 per cent and the area would be home to four pyrolysis and four upgrading plants requiring a nearly $1 billion in capital and creating 1000 jobs. Northland and the Central North Island are also important areas for biomass production and would benefit from regional growth in many of the scenarios run by the model.

The broad conclusion of the study is that biofuels are part of the solution for decarbonising transport in New Zealand, particularly for the marine, aviation and heavy transport sectors, which are hard to electrify. A biofuelled New Zealand can also create a wide variety of benefits for the climate, our economy and for regional New Zealand. The country would import less fossil oil, making New Zealand more energy independent. And our goods and services would continue to access international markets as ‘green pressure’ (the demand for reduced carbon footprints) grows.

The Biofuels Roadmap is a considered and thorough piece of work that shows why and how New Zealand can transition to a low-carbon transport fuel future says Z Energy Chief Executive Mike Bennetts.

“All the pieces required for our country to transition aren’t crystal clear, but this study shows we have enough of a biofuels four-lane highway for us to start driving down,” he says.

“We may have to swap lanes somewhere, but to get to that level of precision now is impractical. We should use this roadmap as a call to action. How many more reports do we need to bring a closed-loop domestic biofuel production system into being that doesn’t adversely affect food supply chains?”

Collaborators: nine companies; six associations/industry bodies, four government departments and four research organisations
Investment: Strategic Science Investment Funding

Z Energy CEO Mike Bennetts (left) with Energy and Resources Minister Hon. Dr Megan Woods and Scion’s Dr Paul Bennett at the roadmap launch.