Fonterra to install 30-megawatt wood biomass boiler at Waitoa site

Fonterra says the switch from coal will help it reach its target net zero emissions by 2050

Dairy giant Fonterra has announced a new 30-megawatt wood biomass boiler, to replace a coal boiler at its Waitoa site in the Waikato.

The co-op says the boiler will be installed later this year and is expected to be up and running by November 2023.

The move is part of a series of initiatives undertaken by Fonterra to lower its CO2 emissions. The co-op expects the new boiler to reduce the site’s annual emissions by 48,000 tonnes of CO2e.

Head of energy and climate, Linda Mulvihill, said: “This is the fourth sustainable fuel-switching decarbonisation project in as many years for the co-operative with projects including Te Awamutu and Stirling providing us with insights into the best way forward along with emissions reductions.

“Grouped together these projects reduce our CO2e emissions by a forecast 183,000 tonnes per annum, the equivalent of 76,000 cars off NZ roads.”

Fonterra has set the target reach net zero emissions by 2050 with an interim objective of a 30% absolute reduction in manufacturing emissions by 2030 based on FY18 level.

“Projects such as this make a significant reduction in our emissions. We saw that with our Te Awamutu conversion, which resulted in an 11% reduction and we’re looking forward to starting our first site on 100% renewable thermal energy next season at the cheese factory in Stirling, Otago” added Mulvihill.

Fonterra expects the initiative to also boost to the local wood biomass industry.

Nigel Ellett, director of Wood Energy New Zealand, said: “Wood Energy New Zealand is very proud to be involved with, and to support, Fonterra’s move across from coal to biomass at their facility in Waitoa, and growing our supply footprint into the North Island.

“The Wood Energy New Zealand partnership, between Pioneer Energy and Niagara Sawmilling, was created to support industry and ensure quality and security of locally sourced wood fuel, removing risk to our customers and supporting their transition to a lower carbon future.

“Wood Energy would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Fonterra on their positive and market leading transition to a lower carbon future.”

The environmental benefits of burning of wood for energy are subject to fierce debate, with environmental organisations sceptical about whether it should be counted towards renewable energy targets – and pledging their opposition to the practice at the Glasgow climate conference (COP26).

In New Zealand, the industry argues that it is sustainable because it is based on plantation forests. A research business for the biomass industry, Scion, insists the practice is a low carbon option because the wood is sourced from sustainable, replanted forests which provide “carbon sequestration during establishment and growing phases and additional carbon stocks from new forest area”.

Others are not convinced. A 2016 study from Dr Jeff Morris of Zero Waste Europe concluded that “whether whole trees or wood wastes from construction/demolition debris or from logging sites, burning wood is not an environmentally friendly source of energy.”

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