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Transitioning to a low carbon energy future

Thursday, June 27, 2019, Brian Cox's Blog

The talk of transitioning to a low carbon energy future seems to be more about continuing the status quo rather than actually having a transformation. It seems also to be a factor of supporting vested interests.

The focus still seems to be on electricity and not energy.

A true transformation analysis would look at the renewable natural resources we have and ask how can we extract the maximum economic wealth and wellbeing out of them to meet our community needs, including that of energy. By focusing the discussion on how we can produce electricity and use energy today limits our opportunities for transition.

Biomass is 100% renewable and is available nearly everywhere. Processing biomass provides food, construction, biochemicals and energy products. Its sourcing affects land use. Processing it creates jobs, regional economic benefits and products for trade. An analysis starting from what we can do with biomass would show that many of these, including energy, are co-products and optimisation of output would show the importance of the interactions between the pathways. Yet what is happening today is that policy analysts are treating energy as if it were separated from the other product streams. The additionality of any energy project is ignored.

Many of the renewable energy sources such as solar and wind produce only electricity and have few other community benefits. There is only one supplier of solar and wind resource. A single piece of equipment will convert the resource into a useable form. And the distribution and sale of the useable energy tends to have one or two players. On the other hand the sourcing and transformation of biomass and waste into heat, electricity or a transport fuel requires a number of parties to work together and the community benefits may be a significant component of a bioenergy or biofuels project.

To achieve optimised renewable energy from biomass and waste requires integration of land use, forestry, waste and business growth strategies. This necessitates facilitation and leadership from central and local government so that bioenergy and biofuels can contribute to the wellbeing benefits, including that of climate change, that we all seek.

News items in this issue show some of those local government entities who are stepping up to the mark, it is a pity that central government policy makers aren't standing with them.

2 posts.

Post from Jeff Tombleson on July 17, 2019 at 1:09PM

Brian it is refreshing to read your blog dedicated to the most urgent and colossal task confronting mankind.


Your frustration regarding the absence of central governments leadership to steer the ship on the pathway to carbon zero is certainly shared. Since Christmas I’m sure that single use plastic bags have gained considerably more airtime than climate change.


Regarding your topic of biofuels, this week the government has announced the recommendation that both the transport and heat sectors be electrified


Heat generation is the obvious “clean” energy option from biofuels.


In response to your comment that wood be promoted as a substitute for fossil fuels – surely, given the following there is little such rational:


a) Electricity can be generated to power the transport fleets transition to EVs

b) Electricity can fuel much of the heat requirements

c) Biofuels are potentially carbon neutral but are dirty, not clean energy

d) Wood fibre for the production of biofuels is expensive and not readily available in required commercial quantities

e) Growing the feedstock for biofuels is very expensive

f) The cost of electricity is the equivalent of 30c/litre (so biofuels are considerably more expensive)

g) The running costs of EVs is much lower than biofuel combustion engines

h) Biofuels result in reduced air quality and associated healthcare costs particularly in the big cities

i) EVs result in the liquid fuel infrastructure becoming redundant just like cigarette dispensers after 2025

j) The CEO of Air NZ has recently written that all domestic flights will in time be powered via turbo electric

k) International flights could potentially be powered by biofuels or maybe a component of fossil fuels will always be required


Yes, some industrial heat generation for boilers etc will require biofuels, and the Huntly power station is scheduled to have a coal line replaced with biomass that is considered necessary post the fossil fuel era in times of low lake levels and the need to generate electricity via alternative means which in many countries particularly those with wind turbines whereby alternative power can be sourced from nuclear power generation


Yes, I have had a detailed and long interest in biofuels particularly bio petrol and bio diesel via the ‘stump to pump’ commercial project that has stalled due largely to their downside stated above. As a forester it has taken me some time to come to terms with why biofuels have a very minor role to play in the worlds clean energy future


I am keen to learn of your enthusiasm for biofuels?

And please keep up the writing on this blogg

Jeff Tombleson

Post from Shem & Jen Kerr on August 17, 2019 at 2:41PM

My first reading of Brian's post was of him lashing out at the wind and the sun: the wind that brought our ancestors to NZ; that lead to the wind powered sawmill;  and through hydraulic transfer of wind power could bring wind into the 21st century eg for slicing and laminating processes: the sun that powers solar timber drying kilns, log conditioning baths, and provides heat for environmentally benign ground retention preservative treatments: the elements that with vision could be factors in improving the well-being of rural communities, slandered as one trick ponies.

Then Jeff's post somehow had bio-energy as dirty; and by implication electricity as the clean green hero of the day. Child labour in cobalt mines, OK, get your hanky out; toxic working conditions  ;totalitarian regimes; water use :steel and concrete in dams pylons substations etc; disruption of river ecosystems; electro-magnetic pollution and forest fires sparked across the country-side; no road user charges or excise tax: all that for only 30 cents /litre? Core blimey, all Brian's mates wanted to do was recycle carbon while keeping local communities going. Which one of these was the burning issue of today?

“According to the Woodsman's Safety Manual there's enough electricity in one lightning bolt to kill ten elephants”. Burton Silver -Bogor.

Brian, how clean can your biofuel mates get? Have they got a bio-fueled engine with negative carbon emmissions yet?

I read Brian's post for the third time. Two statements stood out: “A true transformation analysis would look at the renewable natural resources we have and ask how can we extract the maximum economic wealth and wellbeing out of them to meet our community needs”

“policy analysts are treating energy as if it were separated from the other product streams. The additionality of any energy project is ignored.”

Some time back I read a paper on lithium in geothermal steam. The value of the lithium being poured down the Waikato river was more than the electricity being generated. The value of forestry “residues” all together may be worth more than the timber. Potentially there's a number of income or product streams coming out of a forest that could support a number of additional households in a rural community:

Mycelium products

Biochar plus greenhouse heat  or process heat

Bark refining: bio-polymers; pharmaceuticals; specialised fuels

Fuel wood

Regards from


Disclaimer: Personal views expressed in this blog are those of the writers and do not necessarily represent those of the NZ Farm Forestry Association.

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