Fonterra coal boiler conversion a positive step towards reducing emissions

Fonterra Brightwater co fired boiler

EECA has helped Fonterra on its journey to lower emissions by co-funding the conversion of the Brightwater milk processing plant boiler to co-fire on coal and wood, generating steam for process heat.

Photo right shows wood fuel and coal from the hopper above feeding the furnace.

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Throughout its 32 year lifespan, the 7.2 megawatt boiler had fired on coal. Converting the boiler to co-fire on coal and wood biomass cuts site carbon emissions by an estimated 2,400 tonnes a year – the equivalent of taking 530 cars permanently off the road.

The boiler’s commissioning ceremony attended by the Minister of Energy and Resources, Hon Dr Megan Woods, in November 2018, is anticipated to reduce site emissions by 25%.

In 2019, Fonterra put a major focus on reducing its reliance on coal – announcing it will not install any more coal boilers, or increase its capacity to burn coal – effective immediately. This target was originally set for 2030, but was brought forward to hasten the transition to a net zero-carbon future. 

Fonterra’s Global Sustainability Energy Manager Linda Thompson, says the Brightwater boiler conversion is part of a long-term plan to reduce emissions across all sites.

“To reduce our emissions to meet our 2030 and 2050 targets, requires a phased transition across our sites.  In order to achieve our 2030 target of a 30% reduction in absolute emissions from our FY15 baseline, will require a mixture of energy efficiency projects as well as switching to low emission energy sources.”

Switching from coal is difficult in many areas of the country where there are not affordable long term alternative fuel sources. Even if an alternative source is available, it may not always be present in sufficient quantities required to power Fonterra’s boilers.

Conveniently, Azwood Energy, which supplies wood fuels, was located right next to the Fonterra plant in Brightwater. The wood used for fuel in the converted Brightwater boiler is a waste product of the forestry industry, which otherwise would be left in the forests – potentially contributing to flooding, or providing fuel for forest fires.

“Achieving New Zealand’s climate ambitions requires a sustained and collaborative approach. EECA support for the Brightwater boiler conversion is an example of how we can successfully work together to achieve positive outcomes for the environment.”

EECA Chief Executive Andrew Caseley says EECA has been proud to support this project, which demonstrates how co-firing can be used now to reduce energy emissions for process heat.

“Our technology demonstration fund helps with de-risking investment in under-utilised technology and helps businesses with the transition to a low-carbon future.”

Co-firing has wide potential for replication with other businesses that use coal boilers, with the ultimate goal of replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy. We are seeing growing interest in investigating co-firing and investment in renewable energy in the market.”

EECA’s support for this project means we can show the emissions reductions potential of the technology, and encourage other businesses to similarly move away from only burning coal in their processes.”

EECA assists land based industries to increase their energy efficiency and minimise energy wastage and energy related carbon emissions. In some cases EECA offers funding to businesses in the agricultural sector to implement under-utilised energy efficient technology, which will demonstrate energy and cost saving benefits to other businesses in the sector, with the aim to increase the uptake of these technologies and lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Find more information on technology demonstration funding at the link below.

 EECA Technology Demonstration Project funding and support

Watch the video

 Link to Fonterra Brightwater technology demonstration video

Related video

 Link to Fonterra  reducing emissions through coal boiler conversion video

Related media release

Fonterra's Te Awamutu site moves to pellet power - Fonterra website