By GRAHAM SKELLERN
A $60 million biodiesel production plant - the third of its kind in the
world - could be built in Tauranga and employ a large group of
The bold plan could make the city a centre of excellence for the
sustainable biofuel industry in New Zealand.
Scottish-based Argent Energy (UK) is nearing the end of a feasibility
study to establish a New Zealand plant, producing 75,000 tonnes or 85
million litres of biodiesel a year from animal fat (tallow) and used
That represents 2.5 per cent of diesel fuel sold in the country each
year - it would be blended with the fossil-based diesel used in motor
The Government wants biofuel to contribute 3.4 per cent of petrol and
diesel sales by 2012 in a move to reduce carbon emissions and secure the
Argent Energy New Zealand managing director Dickon Posnett, who is based
at Mount Maunganui, said the final decision on building the plant was
"some weeks or months away; there are two or three issues that need
clarifying - such as pricing and political commitment".
He told the Bay of Plenty Times that his preferred location was Tauranga
and he had looked at three sites here including port land. Other
possible locations were Auckland and Whangarei, because of the Marsden
Point refinery plant.
Mr Posnett said Port of Tauranga was "a good place for us" for importing
raw material - and it already had bulk liquid storage terminals.
"I would hope the port is keen if it helps their business, and having a
renewable fuel manufacturer is good for the area.
"It's a clean, healthy business that reduces greenhouse carbon emissions
and employs highly skilled labour.
"Tauranga is a convenient place to be, not far from Auckland and the
business will support the local, as well as the national, economy," said
He said the production plant, built on a 1-2ha site, would cost more
than $60 million and employ up to 30 chemical and process engineers.
"I know there is a shortage of skilled people here but they like to come
to Tauranga whether they are from Auckland, South Africa or Britain," Mr
The production plant would take 2 1/2 years to complete, from the
resource consent to the commissioning stage, and it could be operating
by the end of 2009.
He said the plant would have minimal impact on the environment. The
emissions were tiny and the plant was silent and sealed, so there were
no smells coming from it.
Argent Energy (UK) opened the world's first large-scale
tallow-to-biodiesel plant near Motherwell in Scotland in March 2005.
That plant produces 45,000 tonnes which is blended to 5 per cent of
ordinary diesel - at that level no changes need to be made to the fuel
supply chain or to vehicle engines.
Argent Energy has just been granted planning permission to build a
second plant at Ellesmere Port in Cheshire, England - the production
there will jump to 150,000 tonnes, or 170 million litres, of biodiesel a
The company is also eyeing other locations in Europe and other parts of
the world but New Zealand is likely to be third on the list.
Mr Posnett said the company was keen on New Zealand because the
Government was actively pursuing a strategy to encourage local biodiesel
production, and the country had a plentiful supply of tallow - the ideal
feedstock for the biodiesel manufacturing process.
Most of the 150,000 tonnes of tallow produced in New Zealand each year
is exported to Asia.
Argent Energy NZ has been in talks with Shell and Caltex about supplying
biodiesel to service stations and truck stops, and for agricultural
Mark Cairns, Port of Tauranga chief executive, said his company has had
talks with Argent Energy and further meetings were planned.
"We have land available and we are keen to attract any business that
puts more cargo across the wharves.
"We want to better understand what the biodiesel plant will mean for the
port and for Tauranga," Mr Cairns said.
David Marriott, chief executive of Priority One, said the plant would be
a boost to the local economy, it supported Government policy on biofuels
and it had the potential to grow.
"It's bringing new industry into town and reducing the dependency on
established sectors like horticulture; the business is clean and it
employs high level technicians who will be paid above the norm [in
"It would position Tauranga as a centre for a sustainable biofuel
industry and who knows where it will go to from there?" Mr Marriott said.
Biodiesel is a clean-burning sustainable alternative, or complimentary,
to mineral (fossil) diesel fuel.
A plant in Tauranga producing 85 million litres a year would save
300,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions.
Vehicles contribute more than 16 per cent of the country's greenhouse
A local plant would have the potential to produce 7 per cent of New
Zealand's diesel supply.
The production process involves splitting the fat - the glycerol which
makes fats and oils thick is removed, and the ester, a thick and sticky
liquid with high energy content, is used as biodiesel. Biodiesel
improves engine lubrication, burns more completely and reduces
emissions, is virtually sulphur free and can deliver increased engine life.
A European trial involving a fleet of trucks driving 4 million km
revealed a 1.5-2 per cent fuel saving using a blend of biodiesel and
Argent Energy's Scottish plant, producing 45,000 tonnes, expects to
increase capacity four-fold by end of the next year.
Check for earlier Pacific Biofuel posts: http://pacbiofuel.blogspot.com/