Thursday, December 9

New Zealand replaces coal-fired boilers with wood pellets, but some say it slows carbon-neutral progress


New Zealand has gotten down to business replacing high-carbon coal fired boilers with cleaner ones powered by wood pellets.

Forestry section in Port Underwood, South Island, New Zealand

A renewable energy expert says that pellets depend on cutting down pine trees every 20 to 30 years.
Photo: 123RF

Hospitals, schools and our second largest carbon emitter, Fonterra, were making the switch to reduce our carbon emissions from coal, which last year stood at approximately two million tons.

But some were labeling wood pellets as a setback, which would slow down our progress towards becoming carbon neutral by 2050.

Andrew Blakers, an expert professor of renewable energy at the Australian National University, described them as a costly detour on the road to a clean energy future.

He said that using electricity was a much cleaner option and that in Australia it was becoming so cheap that in a few years it would replace gas as an option for large industrial boilers.

This was mainly due to renewable generation like solar and wind, and Australia is now building more renewable generation per capita than anywhere in the world.

And Professor Blakers had this message for people like Fonterra and its boilers.

“I think it’s best left as coal or gas until you can organize to install an electric heat pump. That’s the way to go. Don’t go back to the 19th century.”

He said another problem with wood pellets was that they depended on cutting down pine trees every 20 to 30 years.

A much greater amount of carbon would be absorbed if that same land were planted in natives and left alone.

“Wood pellets are a very bad way to supposedly reduce your carbon footprint. If forests are used for wood pellets, it is better to convert that area of ​​land into native forests, let it absorb carbon for the next 200 years and get up to 250 tons per hectare of carbon. “

This was up to five times more carbon than that absorbed by a pine plantation collected every two decades, he said.

However, Massey University Professor Emeritus Ralph Sims, who was a regular contributor to the International Panel on Climate Change, said that wood pellets did have a role, especially in filling the gap between now and when energy cheap renewable is available.

“High-temperature heat can be produced by electrothermal technologies, but they tend to be a bit expensive at the moment, but that’s an alternative. But if we have a waste product, like our forest residues in the ground as an energy source that is you can store it, then why not collect it and use it. “

However, Ralph Sims said that wood pellets were only a good idea if they were made from wood waste, not, as was the case in North America, from whole trees, which were pelleted and exported to Europe.

“That’s the worst thing you can do is deforestation of any forest, be it New Zealand, North Carolina, the Amazon or Indonesia. We don’t want to touch those forests. We want to encourage their survival and enhance their growth if possible.” as well as.”

Fonterra’s COO Fraser Whineray said the company was determined to cut its use of coal to zero, currently at 500,000 tonnes a year, by 2037 and that this would be done using waste wood from the forestry sector.

“It is simply what we think will be better to deliver reliable, renewable and profitable energy. But for the price of electricity to be competitive against what was effectively a waste product, electricity has to go down enough to overcome it., Be competitive.”

Whineray said one plant had already been converted from coal to wood pellets and that another new biomass boiler was already underway.

He said the timeline for the remaining eight plants to stop burning coal depended on how quickly the supply of waste wood and resource permits for the new boilers could be made available.


www.rnz.co.nz

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