As the world seeks to maintain its addiction to fossil fuels, people rightfully concerned about the economic, social and environmental costs of the addiction, are looking at alternative energy sources. Whether it is to supply petroleum for vehicles, or electricity to power our homes, businesses and industry, the environmental cost of our soaring energy addiction is raising some alarming questions. But the need to develop alternative sources of energy such as biofuel’s also raises some immensely interesting opportunities to nip the addiction in the bud, greatly reduce the strain on the environment and still supply most of our needs. Such is the state of biofuel in New Zealand right now.
Biofuel has struggled under successive New Zealand Governments who have not had a long term blue print for New Zealand or even the foresight to develop one. Within six months of National coming to office, it axed support for the biofuel programme, claiming that it was an unnecessary expense. The support was only haphazardly introduced by the previous Labour-led Government after several major power outages caused international embarrassment.
In 2008, just before the economy crashed, the price of petrol in New Zealand was $2.20 for a litre. Despite the risks of a conflict between Israel and Iran causing the Persian Gulf to be shut; a major militant attack in Nigeria disrupting refinery capacity, there has been little thought given to what would happen in New Zealand if a large scale disruption event caused a big, prolonged price spike. This is where biofuels can really come into their own, as biofuel research begins to point out some potential green-tech economic gold mines.
So, what are those gold mines?
Most recently, it was mentioned in The Press that waste product from forestry had the potential to develop a multi-billion dollar industry. The most optimistic assessment of this was that the $5.5 billion a year spent on oil imports could be effectively saved. Whilst this is an extremely optimistic assessment, even a 1/3 to 1/2 reduction of that $5.5 billion figure would be big progress, would create numerous jobs, would not be subject to such random price spikes as oil seems to be and would be very good news for the environment.
That is not the only research that has been done. Another strand, carried out by the National Institute of Water and Atmospherics (N.I.W.A.)found that algae is a potential source of biofuel. Companies such as Aquaflow are developing biofuel products. A third strand that is being tested is cooking oils being used to make biodiesel as Biodiesel New Zealand Limited are doing.
There is resistance to biofuels. Oil companies are concerned that the alternative fuels will eat into their profit margins and will not support the development of them unless they are legally obligated to do so. The prospect of that happening under this National-led Government seems rather remote. Motorists know little about the biofuels that have been developed or what they would do for their vehicles, and motoring associations like the Automobile Association would need to be convinced that this would be good for their members.
It is not gloomy though. Motorists appear keen to know more according to surveys conducted by the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority. The resistance appears to be strongest at the corporate headquarters of the global oil companies such as British Petroleum, ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell (no longer in the N.Z. market)and Caltex. As the value of these companies individually is in the region of U.S.$300-500 billion, it would take government intervention for oil companies to invest in biofuels. It is not impossible. It just needs some political will power.