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NZ dairy co-op Fonterra’s cheese plant to use wood biomass

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Following the opening of Fonterra’s wood pellet boiler at its Te Awamutu site, the dairy cooperative revealed plans to convert another of its sites from coal to biomass.

Fonterra, a multinational dairy cooperative based in New Zealand, officially opened Te Awamutu’s pellet boiler facility with the Minister for Energy and Resources, Dr Megan Woods. At the same time, plans were revealed to convert the co-operative’s Stirling cheese plant in Otago.

Once updated by August 2022, the cheese plant will be coal-free and instead utilise wood biomass. This will make Stirling Fonterra’s first 100% renewable thermal energy site, a significant step towards the cooperative’s goal of eliminating coal from its operations by 2037.

By switching to wood biomass, the Otago site’s annual emissions will reduce by 18,500 tonnes of CO2 – equivalent to taking more than 7,000 cars off the road.

Richard Gray, Fonterra’s general manager of operations for the Lower South Island, said this is another “huge decarbonisation milestone” for the co-operative.

“Sustainability is at the heart of our strategy, and this project is something that will be good for the environment and local community,” said Gray.

“As well as the site being coal-free, there are additional environmental benefits the new boiler will bring, including a reduction in wastewater, noise, solid waste to landfill and air discharge emissions.

“There are also economic benefits for the community – the installation will contribute more than $10 million into the region, along with an estimated 10 jobs in the wood biomass industry.

“Our Stirling site exports to customers in more than 10 countries, including Japan and South Korea, and we’re looking forward to sharing this news with them also.”

The wood biomass will be sourced from Pioneer Energy, locally owned by the Central Lakes Trust. The Trust distributes grants to charitable causes in the Central Otago region.

Pioneer Energy’s CEO, Fraser Jonker, commented: “Pioneer Energy is very proud to be involved with and to support Fonterra’s move across from coal to biomass at their facility in Stirling.

“Pioneer Energy has a proven record for the installation of new and conversion of existing boilers to biomass, and with our own wood fuel division assuring quality and security of local supply for the fuel, have mitigated any perceived risk of making this very important transition to a low-carbon future.”

Stirling is the third significant fuel switching project Fonterra has undertaken in as many years.

The conversion of Fonterra’s Te Awamutu site to wood pellets has resulted in a 10% reduction in the organisation’s coal use, and at Brightwater at the top of the South Island, the team is co-firing wood biomass.

These three projects (Te Awamutu, Stirling, Brightwater), when combined with Fonterra’s other energy efficiency work, will reduce the organisation’s emissions by 135,000 tonnes.