It is not beyond the realms of possibility for biofuels to one day replace finite fossil fuels. That’s the message from Crown Research Institute Scion’s business development manager Rob Lei – and one he shared with delegates at 2019’s New Zealand Farm Forestry annual conference in Rotorua.
Rob says the future use of trees could see a move from an “oil economy” to one of biofuels. This would revitalise regional rural economies in New Zealand, says Rob.
A Government-owned company, Scion specialises in scientific research and technology for the forestry sector. Rob says global brands such as Ikea, McDonald’s and Coca Cola are “driving change” away from oil-based products.
An example is bioplastics made from pine. “The challenge is that it is more expensive,” says Rob. “But a change from plastics is happening.”
The use of biofuels instead of fossil fuels is also becoming a reality. “The world is heading this way,” says Rob.
The issue is getting this technology out of the laboratory and into a scale suitable for commercial production.
Scion CEO Dr Julian Elder agreed there is a move from “black oil to a green path”.
But, he said there is not enough “joining up” of conversations in New Zealand about this.
Parties including the Government, farmers and councils need to be having “robust conversations”.
“It is very important to bring knowledge together,” says Julian. “The opportunities are pretty exciting.”
Julian says questions that need to be answered included the supply of trees for a biorefinery, the type and source.
“Forestry can enable very significant outcomes for New Zealand socially, environmentally and economically.”
In Scion’s view, by 2030 New Zealand will have “grown and transformed” forestry and timber-based manufacturing.
“Regions across New Zealand will be thriving through their expanded and enriched planted forests.
“High-value construction and appearance timber products will be meeting domestic and international demand.
“New materials and energy derived from trees will have displaced oil-derived products.
“And new bio-based industries that use tree and wood waste-derived materials will have replaced those that relied on imported chemicals and fuels.
“Timber will be the norm in multi-level construction, and NZ cities will be increasingly sustainable in character and design.
“Trees will make up more of the rural and urban landscapes as major contributors to mitigating climate change and protecting and enhancing our environment,” says Julian.
“Anything you can make from fossil fuels today, you can make from trees tomorrow.”