Joyce shows Government foolish on biofuels

Anyone else nearly choke on their Weet-Bix this morning listening to Steven Joyce on Morning Report?

It was astounding. The ‘Minister for Everything’ tried to put a positive spin on Norske Skog’s layoffs at their Kawerau mill yet expanding their Tasmanian mill by pointing out their desire to move into a ‘sunrise’ industry, biofuels. He mentioned ‘there’s talk’ of a ‘primary growth partnership with them to put together an opportunity to invest in this technology’ – sounds good but he somehow forgot to mention it was only a few months back the Government scrapped support for biofuels in New Zealand.

It wasn’t just my coffee steaming this morning. The Government deliberately sabotaged the biofuel industry when they were first elected in 2008, voted against the Green’s Sustainable Biofuels Bill and have presided over the industry’s near-destruction in New Zealand culminating with the total axing of their grant scheme in May.

They are like a fair-weather sports fan who passionately rubbishes a sports team until someone else praises them, then making out they have always been their ‘number one fan.’

Worse than just destroying the biofuels sector in New Zealand Joyce is actively doing everything he can to increase New Zealand’s dependence on expensive imported oil, borrowing billions for uneconomic motorways and subsidising dangerous deep sea oil drilling, risky fracking and lignite coal as if the climate didn’t matter.

The reality is biofuels are a big opportunity for New Zealand. Sustainable biofuels can boost our economic development, see New Zealand more resilient and possibly even self-sufficient in transport fuel and reduce carbon emissions. I’d love to see real support from the Government not just fair-weather, hollow words.

If the Government is serious about supporting ‘sunrise’ industries it’s time they saw the light and moved from the twilight of fossil fuels into the bright future of clean energy.

19 Comments Posted

  1. TM – much of the waste I am thinking of is not ploughed back into the soil now. Instead it is simply burned. Extracting biofuels from it has a similar effect – the minerals are left behind either way.

    I agree that aquatic sources have good potential and should be developed.


  2. Land for food should not be diverted to grow fuel crops. For wastes, you would have to show that the fuel source is truely a waste and would not provide substantial improvement if tilled back into the soil.

    But the real potential is for aquatic based fuel sources, such as harvesting algae. The technology is not quite there, but it could provide a vast resource for biofuels, as well as helping remove excess nutrients from some areas.

  3. Yeah, fully recycled over decades or centuries. That’s not good for those living today. And I very much doubt all (100%) of nutrients will be returned to the soil. You’re right that food production (and food consumption of exported foods) depletes the soils that grew those foods. But here we have a Green MP extolling the virtues of making that worse.

  4. Tony – carbon, hydrocarbons and carbohydrates are fully recycled anyway, so there is no worry about depleting the soil of them. The other nutrients such as minerals are a concern but not so much for biofuels because the biofuels don’t need or want these nutrients and they can be left in the waste stream to be recycled onto the soil. Food production takes these nutrients with the food which may be good for the consumer but isn’t so good for the agricultural land.


  5. Trevor, the bill Gareth refers to talks about using agricultural wastes. And he regards that as sustainable, even though those “wastes” contain nutrients and carbon that should go back into regenerating our depleted soils. I think it’s a nonsense to pretend that NZ can become self sufficient in sustainable biofuels at the levels needed to keep this kind of society going and growing.

  6. Tony – if you take wheat or sugar crops and use conventional techniques to extract the sugar and ferment it to get alcohol and distill that to get something pure enough to put in an engine, then I agree the yield is too low to support our needs. However if you take the CO2 given off by the fermentation and react that with hydrogen, you can turn it into methane (and water) and use that to fuel some vehicles. If you also take the biomass left over from the fermentation and add that to the stalks and husks and cook that up in a chemical processing plant with more hydrogen, then you can extract a variety of suitable liquid and gaseous fuels. The key is to have enough renewably generated electricity so you can spare enough for hydrogen generation. Note also that hydrogen itself can be used in some niche applications – possibly aviation.

    We DON’T have to fully populate the West Coast with wind farms. New Zealand has enough wind resource to allow us to choose where to construct the wind farms. However we should get on with harnessing a significant chunk of that wind resource. We also have other renewable energy resources which can also be harnessed including a world-class wave resource and a decent amount of geothermal.


  7. We won’t be able to run our present society and economy on biofuels, for very long and without doing damage to our soils and environment. It’s ludicrous to even suggest it.

  8. No Photonz, the question is poorly qualified. As most of your questions are.

    Assume the North Island gets its rail links fully electrified, and spread out, and Auckland rail is completed WITH a loop, and automobiles are changed over to electric or CNG with Natural Gas made from wood chips and other waste products, and similar effort is made in the South Island, so that the ONLY vehicles needing the fuel are farm tractors and our emergency vehicles.

    Assume we’ve taken reasonably similar measures on the South Island.

    Assume that we’ve fully populated our West Coast with Wind Turbines, and dropped a generator into Cook Strait to extract the tidal output. So there is really enough electricity to power all of it.

    A reasonable guess is then approximately zero to one “millions of hectares”.

    The first question is always, how much of what HAS to be done first, are you lot going to allow to be done.

    Biofuels are our LAST choice for fuel, suitable only for limited applications. Hence our attempt to restrict the sources, which your party of choice AGAIN stupidly opposed.

    One wonders to what extent “because we’re bigger” takes the place of actual thought processes in the National Caucus.

    You ask this question without making any of the other substitutions first, as though we are replacing our current usage Liter for Liter. That was never our way. Just the way National’s followers like to paint it. Not realizing the degree to which they’ve been made into tools.

    You’re done here.

  9. @photonz1
    “If NZ can become self sufficient in biofuels as Gareth says, how many million hectares of productive and irrigated land do we need to grow it?”

    I’m no expert on the subject but i would assume that your question is too broad to answer. The possible sources of biofuels are almost limitless and obviously the land requirement for each type is going to be variable. As a side note, there are a number of biofuel sources which are able to grow in dry conditions on marginal land so would therefore have minimal impact on out precious dairy industry.

    In the end it is difficult to deny the potential of biofuels when you look into some of the research going down around the world. I’m sure that buying into a bigger hunk of the pie in these, the early years, could pay huge dividends down the track. The potential comparative advantage we would have when oil prices rise above those of biofuels (which is inevitable) cannot be overstated.

  10. So it looks like those in favour of biofuels can’t even answer the fundamental question….

    If NZ can become self sufficient in biofuels as Gareth says, how many million hectares of productive and irrigated land do we need to grow it?

  11. OneTrack

    As an alternative when nothing but an energy dense, liquid and portable fuel source will do, and made locally from stuff we don’t use to feed ourselves – yes there is a place for them.

    This is what Gareth was discussing –

    Last year the Labour Government introduced a bill to require companies selling motor fuel to sell a small proportion of biofuel. The Green Party negotiated an amendment to ensure that the biofuel was from sustainable sources. The amendment ruled out fuels made from food crops, made by destroying biodiversity, or which did not significantly reduce carbon emissions.

  12. Gareth,

    Sustainable biofuels can boost our economic development, see New Zealand more resilient and possibly even self-sufficient in transport fuel

    Can you explain which biofuels are sustainable and why? Can you also check on the net energy from biofuels, the likely production rate for us to be self-sufficient in it (given the net energy), the possible environmental impacts at that rate and whether the crop and animal wastes [sic] mentioned in the sustainable biofuels bill can be put to better sustainable use?

  13. bjchip – “I am not sure which Greens said we ought to be growing biofuels though. Most of us aren’t too keen on the things. We are all well aware of the costs involved.”

    There is a guy called Gareth Hughes who is a member of the Green Party and I think he is pretty pro- bio fuels. (Possibly just for aviation purposes though.) Maybe you should look him up, get together and have a chat.

  14. If “biofuels” can include methane (a.k.a. natural gas, CNG, LNG) or methanol, then biofuels can be made from nearly any surplus biomass, such as the residues from forestry, yard waste, shelter belt trimmings, wheat stalks, etc. Yields can be high if enough electricity is available to power and support the processes, including the manufacture of hydrogen used in some of the chemical reactions. This could be a good use of off-peak renewable electricity generation.

    Biofuels made from sugar and wheat have too much impact on food supplies to be justified.


  15. A radical change in our thinking is needed – a change in our thinking about transport; travel and the movement of goods, a change in our thinking about passenger transport; personal and public, pragmatic and for pleasure. When this change occurs, then biofuels, the sort that’s sustainably produced, can begin to play a significant role in New Zealand.
    This Government is working in the opposite direction that the one I describe.
    Have any of you read the work on producing biofuels and food from hazel and chestnut copses – the ‘woody agriculture’ model?
    That’ll get you thinking.

  16. Photonz

    There’s a dependency we’d have to settle to answer. Seriously.

    The requirement for Biofuel depends on how much of the transport and power infrastructure remains dependent on them.

    In other words, IF one builds up a largely electricity based transport system, the need for fuels is restricted to emergency vehicles, aircraft and ships/boats. Not sure what the breakdown is, but the demand would probably be half or less what it is now. Using electrical power to create H2 and reacting it to give us NH3 or CH4 would allow us to displace additional consumption.

    So the need for biofuels can theoretically be reduced to manageable levels, levels that don’t impact our production of food… and I would like to live in theory, because everything works there.

    I am not sure which Greens said we ought to be growing biofuels though. Most of us aren’t too keen on the things. We are all well aware of the costs involved.


  17. It is a bit of a stretch to say they sabotaged the biofuel industry by voting against the Sustainable Biofuels Bill – The bill sought to place sustainability standards on biofuels which are imported and used in NZ, voting it down is hardly a killer blow to the industry. Besides, it was opposed on the grounds that very little unsustainable biofuel is currently imported and that the technicalities involved in monitoring overseas compliance are unrealistic.

  18. Gareth is doing everything he can to kill off New Zealand’s own oil industry, then comes up with this gem …..”Joyce is actively doing everything he can to increase New Zealand’s dependence on expensive imported oil”

    We’ve got greens here saying we need to be growing biofuels, and others arguing strongly that theres not enough fertile well watered land on the planet for food production.

    We had a Labour Government that regulated use of biofuels to the point that it would have meant our food production declined sharply – a big failure.

    If we are going to put a lot more land into production for biofuels we are going to need a lot more irrigation, which again is regularly opposed by the left.

    I think biofuels are a good idea, where practical.

    Gareth – serious question. If NZ can become self sufficient in biofuels as you say, how many million hectares of productive and irrigated land do we need to grow it?

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