$1 million investigation into `bio-energy' options

Wednesday 28 February 2007, 7:27PM

By Sam Farrow


One million dollars of taxpayers' money will be spent over the next 16 months on a state science company's assessment of the risks and opportunities in developing different "bio-energy" options.

Scion, part of the former Forest Research Institute at Rotorua, will report on the potential for production of heat, power and liquid transport fuels from crops and other plant material.

Biofuels provide renewable energy from "biomass", recently living organisms or their metabolic byproducts, such as cow manure.

It will also develop a map of biomass resources for energy, John Gifford, Scion's group manager for sustainable consumer products, said.

The company will investigate ways in which useful energy "products" can be created from not only wastes such as the offcuts from pine plantations, but also short rotation crops, forage crops, grasses, dairy farm wastes, algae on sewage ponds, and other biomass.

It may also look at other waste-streams, such as the methane produced by plants and other organic material in landfills.

Mr Gifford said the study will link to other research programmes to provide viable scenarios for sustainable energy options and provide the pathways that New Zealand can pursue.

Separately, Scion and another state science company, Agresearch, are working with San Diego-based Diversa Corporation, which has developed special enzymes for breaking down the celluose in trees into sugars that can be fermented and refined into ethanol.

The three companies have said they believe the forestry sector could provide ethanol for all 3 billion litres of petrol the nation uses each year, but there is also potential for special crops of fast-growing grasses to be used as a feedstock.

A private biofuel company, Biojoule -- an offshoot of Genesis Research -- plans to later this year have a trial plant producing ethanol from shrubby willows it is growing near Taupo.

In Marlborough, Aquaflow Bionomic Corporation has started turning the scum from sewage ponds into biodiesel. It has predicted an eventual production of one million litres of biodiesel a year from the algae.