New Zealand’s Energy Need Looks to Bioenergy

More than 50 specialists met recently in Christchurch, New Zealand, to explore new approaches to producing fuel gas from biomass. The country’s small bioenergy industry welcomes a new phase of research and collaboration, especially on biomass gasification.

New Zealand has 1.8 million hectares in pine plantations, providing about 5 percent of New Zealand’s primary energy supply in woody biomass. The installed capacity of biomass energy plant throughout the larger wood processing sites in New Zealand is around 550 MWh, yet there is no exclusive electricity generation using wood or forest residues. “The most likely application of biomass gas will be in the forest industry, where there is an abundance of raw material…. Looking beyond the forestry industry there are opportunities to incorporate biomass gas in industrial energy parks to produce process heat for manufacturing and energy for refrigeration, or to supply thermal energy and electricity for small towns serving the forestry sector,” said George Hooper, Centre for Advanced Engineering’s (CAE) executive director. “The beauty of biomass gas is that it comes from a waste product, is clean burning, produces zero carbon emissions and can be built where the energy is needed, rather than relying on an expensive distribution network,” Hooper said. “It fits in perfectly with the move away from large generation facilities in far-off locations, and towards small-scale energy plants that are closer to the end consumer.” Recent work completed by the forest industry suggests total energy use in the sector is likely to almost double over the next 15 years. To meet this demand there is a requirement for a marked increase in the amount of energy from new sources such as forest residues or wood waste. Advances in gasification technology have made possible cogeneration of heat and electricity from forest biomass at costs that are close to commercial. Biomass gasification technology is well proven. While the output of the partial oxidation of solid organic material including wood, sewage sludge and hybrid crop species is a fuel suitable for combustion in turbines to produce heat and, in some cases, combined heat and electricity (known as cogeneration), it is not widely used in New Zealand due to the relatively low cost of fossil fuels, hydro and geothermal energy. As businesses become concerned about New Zealand’s energy constraints, said Hooper, they are actively looking for alternatives. CAE has a long association in renewable energy, including growing trees for direct use, conversion to bio-fuels and development of new energy forms.
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