Plantation Forests: a major source for liquid biofuels

Plantation Forests: a major source for liquid biofuels
     Story and photos: Jim Childerstone

Up to 30% of imported fossil fuels could be processed in this country mostly from woody biomass derived from plantation forests according to research completed in 2018.

The principle feedstock is from exotic plantation forests, and other mostly vegetative sources. Researchers predicted savings of over $1 billion, which is currently attracting serious attention from government agencies and the forest sector.

The emphasis is partly based on climate change but interest is being spurred by escalating fuel prices, conflicts in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, supply problems of both fuels and gas, not to mention disruptions due to the worldwide pandemic and inflation.

New Zealand’s plantation forestry resources are renewable, sustainable and  have a low carbon footprint through the cycle of establishment and management through to harvesting and processing. These forests sequester C02 during the growth period and some of it is retained in products such as sawn lumber, Cross-laminated Timber (CLT) and Medium Density Fibreboard (MDF). Mills often generate their own process and drying heat energy from residues created during log processing. By-products include wood biomass to replace coal for heat energy.  

The time for bioenergy is ripe according to the current Bioenergy Association  but it is dependent on Government policies and public and private investment to achieve the economies of scale to produce liquid fuels such as heavy fuel oils for shipping, diesel, petrol and even aviation fuel.

The technology for conversion of woody feedstock into a bio-crude and then into liquid biofuels has been undergoing small scale experiments over the past couple of decades.

An earlier Scion study into the economics of feedstock conversion found that in-forest sources of residues, including low grade and reject log, offcuts and slovens as well as large size branches, were the most cost-effective. Other sources included oil-rich crops such as rapeseed and canola, cane crops, orchard and municipal gardens/reserves as well as wood from demolition ending up in landfills, organic vegetation and cooking oils.

The Bioenergy Association's Brian Cox indicates future innovation to reach economies of scale cannot be left to the market. It will rely on support from government and its agencies to get started with some form of encouragement through regulations, legislation and innovative start-up funding.

Biofuels was listed on the Government’s Emissions Reduction Plan in the May budget, mainly targeting solid energy to replace coal fed heating systems.

Quoting from the latest paper from the International Consultancy firm Indufor, Ernslaw One's Peter Weir notes that "under current settings" (limited trials) "conversions of biomass to liquid biofuels is uneconomic".

Referring to the Government's climate budget, Grant Dodson, President of the NZ Forest Owner's Association (FOA), says the FOA welcomes this investment by Government and looks forward to its members partnering, where appropriate, on delivery of these initiatives. Among these was "development of systems to recover more forest residues for bioenergy" and enabling Crown investment.

"The FOA actively promotes the significant contribution forestry makes towards climate change objectives. The Association continuous to facilitate the investment of levy funds into research including research into bioenergy. In addition, the association is a...

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