Nelson-based company Azwood has opened a new pellet press at its Brightwater site, which it says has increased its wood fuel production capacity by over 50%.
The pellets are made from sawdust and shavings from local saw mills, which process forestry logs. When burnt, the pellets released the same amount of carbon as the trees absorbed through the growth process, making them a “carbon neutral” fuel, Azwood said.
Increasing pellet production capacity meant the company could expand the forestry operations it worked with, if consumption of the wood fuel increased, Schmidt said. The company had already partnered with retirement homes, schools, universities, swimming pools, laundry services, and other commercial and industrial users in the region, she said.
In the Nelson region, Nelson Hospital, McCashins Brewery and South Pine were still using fossil fuels – the hospital coal, McCashins diesel and South Pines coal, which it had a consent to use when short of its own wood waste biofuel, which the company said it used to generate over 95% of its energy.
“We would love to work with those companies to get the last remaining three in the Nelson region to convert to wood.” Nelson Mayor Nick Smith said the council and government needed to encourage those with “stationary fossil fuel boilers” to make the conversion, through effective regulation and grants.
“There is a real opportunity for a win-win solution with the development of forestry waste biomass fuels and the need to phase out fossil fuels such as coal. This is a particularly attractive option for the Nelson region where we have a large forestry sector.”
More than 6 million tonnes of unwanted renewable wood is produced from logging operations in New Zealand in an average year. Azwood said it was too difficult to assess how much of that was produced in the Nelson region, but it was “nationally agreed there is plenty of potential to utilise slash and residues … and economically place it into markets”.
Last month, Genesis Energy ran its coal-and-gas-burning Huntly power plant in Waikato on wood pellets for a day, in a trial to bring down the facility’s large carbon footprint. The electricity generator also paired up with Fonterra (which burns coal for milk-drying, and other dairy processes) to determine if wood pellets could be feasibly produced in New Zealand.
Azwood had supplied wood energy to Fonterra’s Brightwater plant for the past five years, but Fonterra was due to shift the factory’s milk powder processing to a bigger site near Christchurch.
Schmidt knew of two other wood pellet producers in New Zealand, one in Southland and one in the North Island.