Unlocking New Zealand's green energy future

Friday 24 May 2024

A two-year research project has shed light on the promising opportunities for regional New Zealand to adopt short rotation forestry (SRF) for bioenergy production.

The findings show that leveraging short rotation forestry will not only diversify regional economies, but also contribute to sustainable land management and generate environmental benefits as New Zealand looks for ways to transition to a circular bioeconomy and meet its net-zero emissions targets by 2050.

Silviculture and forest carbon scientist Alan Jones says Scion’s modelling shows that short rotation forestry as a feedstock for bioenergy has the potential to replace 6% of New Zealand’s annual fossil fuel demand from less than 1% of the land area.

“We’ve built on research from a decade ago and assessed the feasibility of rapidly upscaling bioenergy production from forests. We’ve found there are particular regions well-suited to short rotation forestry, which provides a real opportunity for communities to transform their economic base and reshape New Zealand’s energy future.”

A key outcome from Scion’s research is a ‘how to’ guide for short rotation forestry targeting landowners, forest investors, and government agencies. It not only outlines the feasibility of SRF but also identifies specific regions most suitable for it in New Zealand.

The ideal species for short rotation forestry is Pinus radiata, owing to its rapid growth rates and high degree of adaptability and disease resistance in a range of growing locations. Other options include Eucalyptus fastigata and  Eucalyptus regnans for their potential to rapidly yield large volumes of woody biomass from young age trees. 

Jones says the guide provides a glimpse of what could be possible in the future for short rotation forestry as a vehicle to scale up bioenergy production. But the benefits would go much further if decentralised processing of harvested material was promoted to stimulate regional economies and fast-track bioenergy availability.

“It’s about developing forest systems that are optimised for bioenergy. But in more economically disadvantaged regions, it also makes sense to build and establish processing facilities there because the energy itself is a lot cheaper to transport once it’s chipped and dried, or transformed into liquid biofuels."

By 2035, one scenario suggests 150,000 hectares of dedicated bioenergy forest could contribute to at least 5% of domestic fossil energy demand, displacing the equivalent of 3 Mt of CO2 emissions from oil combustion per year, or 4 Mt CO2 from coal.

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Source and image credit: Scion

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