Increasing the use of bioenergy & biofuels
Scion is forging a path for New Zealand to use more bioenergy from sustainable resources, leading to reduced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, increased energy security, reduced spending on imported fuels and growth in regional economies in New Zealand.
Developing woody biomass feedstock
Woody biomass from plantation-grown trees is New Zealand’s most significant renewable energy resource. Increasing the area of planted forest by 1.8 million hectares could supply around 60% of the country's transport fuels by 2040. Planted on low to medium quality land, energy forests would also provide ecosystem services such as erosion and flood prevention.
Read about the potential of New Zealand’s plantation forests as an energy source [pdf]
A Geographic Information Systems-based biomass supply model has been developed by Scion. It calculates feedstock supply costs and the costs to deliver biomass to an energy plant. The model uses datasets of New Zealand’s plantation forests, forest residues and waste resources. It can be used for optimising the site and size of a bioenergy plant, and for understanding and planning long term feedstock supply.
Plantation forests can produce feedstocks for energy and biofuels as well as timber. Scion’s work looking at multi-use forests includes evaluating closely-spaced eucalypt plantations, and the selection and growing of species with high biomass production.
Converting woody biomass to solid biofuels
Forestry residues, bark, sawdust, and other byproducts of wood processing are potential solid fuels to replace coal, but "as is" they can be difficult to transport and use. Scion is working to improve the usability of woody residue by compressing it into pellets, briquettes or logs either with or without torrefaction (heating in the absence of oxygen to remove water and volatile components to give an energy-dense wood "coal").
Producing drop-in liquid biofuels
New Zealand uses almost 8.5 billion litres of fossil transportation fuels every year. These fuels are responsible for around 17% of New Zealand's GHG emissions.
Renewable resources can be converted into biofuels. Ideally, new biofuels will be "drop in" – be able to be used in vehicles without engine modifications and be distributed via existing systems.
Scion is developing thermochemical technologies to produce biofuels from renewable biomass. This includes:
- Evaluating the potential of fast pyrolysis for crude bio-oil on a pilot-plant scale
- Fermenting carbohydrates derived from cellulose into ethanol
Understanding how specialised proteins are used by cells and other biological systems to convert energy from one form to another could provide clues for developing new highly-efficient energy technologies. Scion scientist Katharine Challis is investigating these nanoscale “molecular motors”.
Paul Bennett, Portfolio Leader, Chemical and Bioprocess Engineering