Potential for drop-in biofuels in New Zealand

By Erin Voegele | July 13, 2010
Posted Aug. 11, 2010

A report recently published by New Zealand Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Jan Wright calls for a more strategic approach to biofuels development within the nation. The report, titled "Some biofuels are better than others: Thinking strategically about biofuels," addresses the pros and cons of various biofuels. According to Wright, in order for biofuels to play a significant role in New Zealand's energy future, drop-in biodiesel made from wood must be developed.

The report states that New Zealand should focus on diesel replacements rather than gasoline replacements. "We run our trucks, tractors and fishing boats on diesel, and, if we are concerned about energy security, diesel is more important than petrol," said Wright in the report. The New Zealand gasoline market, by comparison, is more flexible.

Approximately 1 million liters (264,000 gallons) of biodiesel is currently sold in New Zealand. According to the report, 100 percent of the biodiesel manufactured by the nation's local producers is made from tallow, canola oil and used cooking oil feedstocks. However, the report also states that the local processing capacity for biodiesel is very limited, access to feedstocks is limited, and building new facilities poses significant economic and commercial challenges.

Even if the production of traditional biodiesel could be ramped up significantly, the report noted that heavy vehicle manufacturers usually only support the use of biodiesel in low-percentage blends, such a B5. If biofuels are to comprise a substantial portion of the New Zealand fuel market, the report states that the country needs more plentiful feedstock sources and compatible drop-in fuels that won't be limited in their blend percentages.

According to the report, hydrogenated renewable diesel and hydotreated renewable jet fuels have potential as drop-in fuels. However, since they are produced using traditional biodiesel feedstocks, they are still subject to feedstock constraints. The report also states that there is some potential for the produce of "green crude" from algae, but those technologies are currently facing significant scale-up limitations. In addition, the report also notes a great deal of potential in New Zealand to produce biodiesel from wood using the Fischer-Tropsch process.

In conclusion, the report states that New Zealand has a great deal of biofuel production potential, but that the outlook for first-generation production is limited. There are simply not enough fats, oils and fermentable materials within the country to produce large volumes of traditional biodiesel and ethanol, said the report. While production of these first-generation fuels should continue to be encouraged, greater utilization of biofuels within New Zealand will ultimately depend on the development of drop-in substitutes.

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