15 July 2008 Alternative Fuels Project to Target Sustainable Biofuels
FoRST Project Working Closely with Maori Incorporations
Lincoln University is to lead a $4million research programme to establish a New Zealand biodiesel feedstock industry on less productive land.
Funded by the Government’s Foundation for Research Science and Technology (FoRST), and with global fuel company Chevron as a principal industry partner, the project reflects concerns around the cost of fuel and the impact of biofuels on the price of basic foods such as grain and milk. The research team will be co-ordinated through the Bio-Protection Research Centre, based at Lincoln University.
The project supports proposed legislation which will require oil companies to introduce biofuels. If the Biofuels Bill is passed into law there will be a sales obligation of 0.5 per cent from October 1, increasing to 2.5 per cent in 2012.
The research team will apply unique non-GM biotechnology, world class agronomy and ecological engineering methods to produce affordable, low impact fuels that are also ethically sound.
Project leader Steve Wratten, Professor of Ecology, says the research aims to clear several sustainability hurdles by targeting mainly non-food crops, measuring total energy inputs and outputs, and leaving top quality land for food production.
The six-year project acknowledged the need to have sustainability criteria defined and locked in at the beginning of the search for the best species to crop. It demanded broad collaboration with many partners in industry, he said.
“The cost of the feedstock is about 80% of the total cost of making biodiesel, and so it’s essential to produce high-yielding raw material as efficiently as possible.
“At the same time we need to ensure there is low environmental impact, or no impact at all, so that there is less land being taken out of food production.”
The project arose out of a study commissioned in 2007, by Chevron New Zealand, in which Lincoln University scientists made a preliminary assessment of potential New Zealand fuel crop species. They concluded there are crop species with “distinct promise” of yielding high-energy biofuels.
Nick Hannan, Chairman of Chevron New Zealand, says the company supports the introduction of biofuels into New Zealand, as biofuels will have an important part to play in meeting New Zealand’s energy demands into the future, as well as potentially reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving air quality. The company will be the principal commercial partner in the research, contributing joint-funding and commercial expertise through its global alternative energy company, Chevron Technology Ventures.
“New Zealand needs a sustainable biofuel supply if we are to truly address climate change issues and meet our energy needs in future,” says Mr Hannan. Chevron has waived any proprietary rights to the results of the research, saying the information should benefit the whole country.
The project has a focus on Maori-owned land, most of which is marginal for food production. The proprietors of Taharoa C Block Incorporated (King Country) and Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu are key partners, providing technical input and field trial management.
Taharoa C Block spokesman Peter Brown says the FoRST project is a highly complementary opportunity. “This sits very well alongside other projects we’re doing in the area of bio-energy crops, and has potential to deliver significant economic development,” he said.
John Reid, project leader at Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu, says “this project enhances the opportunity for Ngai Tahu to invest in an entirely new and sustainable industry and opens up opportunities for grass-roots Māori landowners in Te Waipounamu.
Solid Energy, a project partner and owner of Biodiesel New Zealand, says the involvement of Lincoln University and Crop & Food in the development of feedstock crops is a vote of confidence in a future New Zealand biofuels industry. Solid Energy makes biodiesel from locally-grown oilseed rape and used cooking oil. "Users want to be assured that the biofuel they are using is making a positive contribution to New Zealand's greenhouse gas reduction targets without displacing food production,” says Andy Matheson, Solid Energy’s General Manager of Renewable Energy. “Development of crop solutions which suit marginal land and require minimal inputs will help ensure this.”
Alan Cliffe, Development Manager for Nufarm NZ, says the crop protection products developed by the research team are likely to have commercial application in the many other countries.
The principal outcome of the project will be new technologies to increase extractable oil yields and protect crops against pests and diseases. It will also provide a decision-making framework for land owners based on economic analysis and agronomic knowledge at a crop and regional level.
Dr Chris Kirk, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, says the project reflects Lincoln University’s strength in innovation and the development of land-based resources. “This is a project of national significance. Demand for transport fuels is increasing annually and New Zealand is exposed to a volatile global market. The establishment of a sustainable feedstock industry, with low impacts through the production process, is forecast to deliver economic benefits of $160million to $330million, depending on the blend rate, over the next 10 years.”
About Lincoln University
Lincoln University continues to achieve international recognition for its teaching and research activities. It is renowned for its entrepreneurship, relevance and as a catalyst for new and diverse approaches to stimulate the development and transfer of knowledge. The University fosters alliances with the users of research information both nationally and internationally and has established a number of significant alliances with other research organisations. The university is structured into four divisions: Commerce; Agriculture and Life Sciences; Environment, Society and Design; and Bioprotection and Ecology
About Chevron New Zealand
Chevron markets the Caltex brand in New Zealand, with nearly 300 service stations and Star Mart convenience stores throughout the country. Chevron New Zealand is a wholly owned subsidiary of Chevron Corporation, one of the world's leading integrated energy companies. The company’s success is driven by the ingenuity and commitment of approximately 59,000 employees who operate across the energy spectrum. Chevron explores for, produces and transports crude oil and natural gas; refines, markets and distributes transportation fuels and other energy products and services; manufactures and sells petrochemical products; generates power and produces geothermal energy; and develops and commercialises the energy resources of the future, including biofuels and other renewables. Chevron is based in San Ramon, Calif, USA. More information about Chevron is available at www.chevron.com.
Charlotte Mayne , Director Marketing and Communications, International & Domestic, Lincoln University
Dr Peter John, Director Research & Commercialisation, Lincoln University