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Put a tree in your tank

Could New Zealand’s forests be our oilfields? Business and researchers say it’s a serious prospect, but biofuels face major obstacles, finds Chris Barton in this NZ Herald article.

Amid a spate of manufacturing layoffs, paper-maker Norske Skog last month announced it was permanently halving production at its Tasman mill in Kawerau. Newsprint, it seemed, was a dying industry. There were arguments about subsidies, the impact of the Emissions Trading Scheme, and whether biofuels had a future in New Zealand. Could our forests be oilfields? It was hard to see the wood for the trees, not to mention the carbon and the ethanol.

It still is. Contradictions abound in a sector where a potentially enormous economic benefit is being left to languish. On one hand, the government is supporting Norske Skog to move into biofuel production. On the other hand, the government cut the existing $36 million bio-diesel development grants scheme, and dropped the Labour Government’s plan to require a small percentage of biofuel in all petrol and diesel.

Further dousing of sputtering biofuel efforts came in August, with news that state-owned coal company Solid Energy was quitting the biofuels business, selling its Biodiesel NZ subsidiary – the country’s only large-scale commercial biodiesel supplier.

At the same time, there was dismay over an influx of cheap, dubious quality carbon credits, making the massive carbon sinks of our own forests worth next to nothing. Late last month an open letter from eight major forestry companies implored PM John Key to “go back to the drawing board” and align the Emissions Trading Scheme with international best practice by including a 50 per cent cap on the use of international carbon units. The letter arrived just as Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully was telling the UN General Assembly: “One of the most striking features of our region has been the complete lack of progress in putting lofty climate change rhetoric into any form of renewable energy practice.” Indeed.

–> Read the full NZ Herald article

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