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New Zealand could dent emissions by switching to biofuels

New Zealand's Parliament Building (Wikimedia Commons/Silenceisfoo)
New Zealand's Parliament Building (Wikimedia Commons/Silenceisfoo)

A study from a government-owned research group is urging increased biofuel use to develop a renewable low-carbon transport sector.

The report follows two years of research by Crown Research Institute Scion and looks at how New Zealand could grow and refine feedstocks into biofuels for heavy transport, shipping and air travel. According to the Institute, in 2015 burning liquid fossil fuels represented 23% of New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Scion says that it is hoping for ‘informed deliberation, planned strategy and long-term implementation to manufacture green fuels within New Zealand.’ Its study finds fungible fuels from non-food feedstocks that are grown on non-arable land to be the most attractive options. The study also favours long-term energy crops, like trees.

The group used the Bioenergy Value Chain Model (a computer model developed by the Energy Technologies Institute in the UK) to assess scenarios of feedstock supply and processing capacity in relation to demand and how sustainable those supply chains would be. The biofuel-fossil fuel replacement in these scenarios ranged from between 5 and 50%.

“We initiated our own study to inform and stimulate debate on the large-scale production and use of liquid biofuels in New Zealand,” says Paul Bennett, Scion science leader for clean technologies.

“Our aim is to provide robust data, insights and a roadmap for our country to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve our energy security.”

“However, both our modelling and stakeholder discussions are explicitly clear that market forces alone will not be sufficient to kick start large-scale biofuel production.”

Bennett says that a ‘nationally coordinated implementation plan’ is necessary for a shift to biofuels. He points to benefits including a reduction in GHG emissions, meeting international emissions commitments, aiding regional growth and employment, and energy independence as reasons to do this.

Scion CEO Dr Julian Elder says the study was undertaken to investigate what liquid biofuel options are best suited to New Zealand. 

“We believe this study is a great starting point for an open and fact-based discussion around the New Zealand biofuels opportunities.  We recognise that the information reported here is not an exhaustive study of all elements of a new biofuels industry, but hope this study will inform and catalyse such a debate.”

New Zealand's Parliament Building (Wikimedia Commons/Silenceisfoo)