PINE plantations in the Kaipara

PINE plantations in the Kaipara can be converted into biofuels as part of a nationwide proposal which will save the economy billions of dollars each year.

Scion, formerly the New Zealand Forest Research Institute, have suggested to government officials that more than 1 million hectares of marginal land throughout New Zealand should be planted in exotic trees, a renewable resource that can be processed to provide fuel.

In the proposal Scion has identified 19,900ha of land in Northland which would be suitable for this sort of bio-fuel producing forestry.

The trees would be converted into liquid fuel through technology under development, Scion’s group manager sustainable design Trevor Stuthridge says.

A 210-page report by Scion touted the green initiative as potentially saving the economy billions of dollars.

It said the country could reduce its reliance on imported oil by as much as 65 percent resulting in a return to the economy of $4.8 billion a year by converting 1.8 million hectares of marginal land throughout New Zealandinto “energy forests”.

Government officials welcomed the report based on three years research, which also involved input from Landcare Research, MOTU, NIWA and Infometrics.

This is land that would be suitable for forestry and what the forest products get used for would be determined by the market at the time of felling, it might be sold for fuel, chip, saw logs or most likely a mix.

The report was completed in October last year, Scion then concentrated on talking it up with key ministries and has just released it to the public.

It came as petrol prices rose to their highest level for more than a year, with oil companies blaming fluctuating oil prices on overseas markets.


Dr Stuthridge said 90 percent of oil was imported at a cost of $5.8 billion per year.

“Scion’s research shows how New Zealand can break this dependence using home-grown biomass plantation forests on low productivity land to produce renewable transport fuels without significantly impacting on production of food or feed,” he says.

According to the Ministry of Economic Development’s New Zealand’s Energy Outlook 2009 report, by 2035, 48 percent of New Zealand’s total energy demand will be oil-based. Dr Stuthridge says that substituting oil with biofuels from wood, oil usage can be reduced from 48 percent to 18 percent.

“It is a highly achievable goal which would reap significant benefits for the economy, the environment and for greenhouse gas reduction and this goal could be realised incrementally, with full effect from 2035,” he says.

He says investment, particularly in the United States, was already driving development in technologies to convert woody biomass – technically lignocellulosics – such as trees, grasses and some agricultural residues into transport fuels.

“The benefits of such fuel production are significant,” Dr Stuthridge says.

Scion had signed an agreement with Sandia National Laboratories in California to further develop such technologies.

“This collaborative agreement provides a tangible example of how New Zealand can contribute to and benefit from international efforts to solve global issues.”

The potential for expansion of forests in Northland is quite small in comparison to some other regions (Manawatu-Wanganui 340,000 ha, Gisborne 117,000, Hawkes Bay 163,000).

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