Fonterra replacing coal boiler with wood biomass for Waitoa factory

Fonterra celebrates turning the first sod at Waitoa with Te Tumuaki o Te Kīngitanga and local iwi Ngāti Hauā. Pictured from left to right: Tumohe Clarke, Hine Thompson, Te Tumuaki o Te Kīngitanga - Hone Thompson, Te Ao Marama Maaka, Fonterra head of energy and climate Linda Mulvihill and Fonterra Waitoa operations manager Andrew Johns.
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Fonterra celebrates turning the first sod at Waitoa with Te Tumuaki o Te Kīngitanga and local iwi Ngāti Hauā. Pictured from left to right: Tumohe Clarke, Hine Thompson, Te Tumuaki o Te Kīngitanga - Hone Thompson, Te Ao Marama Maaka, Fonterra head of energy and climate Linda Mulvihill and Fonterra Waitoa operations manager Andrew Johns.

Fonterra is replacing a coal boiler at its Waitoa factory in the Waikato with a wood biomass boiler as part of its goal to achieve net zero emissions at its manufacturing sites by 2050.

The co-operative celebrated turning the first sod at Waitoa on Thursday with Te Tumuaki o Te Kīngitanga and local iwi Ngāti Hauā. Work will begin on the new boiler installation later this year, and it is expected to be up and running in November next year.

Fonterra is the country’s largest exporter with 27 manufacturing sites spread across the country. The co-operative is the second-biggest user of coal nationwide and committed in 2019 to not instal any new coal boilers to run its factories and last year agreed to end coal use for industrial heat by 2037.

The new boiler at Waitoa will reduce the site’s annual carbon emissions by 48,000 tonnes, the equivalent of taking 20,000 cars off New Zealand’s roads. The factory will continue to operate two coal boilers.

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Fonterra head of energy and climate Linda Mulvihill said it was another significant step towards the co-operative’s sustainability ambitions.

“This is the fourth sustainable fuel switching decarbonisation project in as many years for the co-operative with projects including Te Awamutu and Stirling providing us with insights into the best way forward along with emissions reductions,” she said.

Together, the projects reduce Fonterra’s carbon emissions by an estimated 183,000 tonnes per annum, the equivalent of taking 76,000 cars off New Zealand roads, she said.

Nine of Fonterra’s 27 sites use coal and this will reduce to eight sites once Stirling’s biomass boiler is operational, a spokeswoman said.

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The co-operative has said it was constrained in its ability to switch boilers at multiple sites.

Work on plants could only be done in a three-month period after cows had dried off at the end of the season, and before calving began when the amount of milk collected ramped up exponentially from about 4 million litres a day to about 82 million litres a day over a six to eight-week period.

It ruled out switching its boilers to electricity, saying the operational and capital costs were too high and Transpower would have to upgrade its capacity to meet demand, which would take several years. Instead, it favoured a switch to wood biomass boilers, alongside moves to improve energy efficiency.

The new boiler at Waitoa will boost the local wood biomass industry.

It is supported by Wood Energy New Zealand, a partnership between Pioneer Energy and Niagara Sawmilling to supply locally sourced wood fuel.

Wood Energy NZ director Nigel Ellett said it would help grow the partnership’s supply footprint into the North Island.