A bio-refinery is being planned for Tairawhiti, Gisborne to produce a material made from forestry waste that can replace products which use oil in their manufacture.
Jacob Kohn co-founder of Futurity the company behind the bio-refinery, says it intends to turn low-value waste into a high-value product.
A bio-refinery works in much the same way as an oil refinery he told Jesse Mulligan.
“Rather than taking oil, we take waste wood from New Zealand’s abundant pinus radiata plantation forests. We fractionate that wood down into its core building blocks.
“These building blocks are incredible materials which allow trees to grow tall and strong and then we take those properties and optimise it to be used in everyday products.”
One such market the company has identified is packaging.
“Petroleum-based plastics might be used to line a paper cup we’ve developed a lignin-based coating, which is naturally derived.
“Therefore, it can be composted or recycled and negates much of the end of life complications.”
The tree-waste derived product can also be use as foam packaging, he says.
“Polyurethane foams can also be replaced. We can replace about 40 percent of that with lignin-derived substitute and that can be used for anything from surfboard blanks to insulation.”
The company has secured geographically exclusive licences for the overseas technology for use in New Zealand, Kohn says.
“The advantage that New Zealand has is we’ve got a very strong forestry sector which allows us to produce readily available wood.
“And we take that very strong forestry foundation which we have and then we identify key markets and innovations.”
The waste wood which can be used in the process is anything that can be de-barked, he says.
“Currently there is no commercial incentive to take waste wood off slopes, so we’re working locally with the Gisborne region forestry companies and contractors to develop a commercial incentive to bring that wood off the slopes.
“If you are taking something that currently has a very low value and creating high value products from that, it’s very compelling.”
It would be New Zealand’s first bio-refinery and the company has identified Tairāwhiti-Gisborne for its first first location.
“There is an abundance of forestry feedstock here which is presently exported to China, it’s a great location we’ve had lots of support from the Tairāwhiti trust.”
He says the company has proven the technology works on New Zealand wood, and believes a refinery could be up and running in under 5 years.
That could create hundreds of jobs in the region, he says.
The environmental benefits are also significant.
“You’re starting with a tree that sequesters carbon from the atmosphere and then we’re turning that into a product which may traditionally use fossil carbon from the ground, so it’s built off a foundation which has significant environmental benefits regardless.”
The refining processing would be comparable to the wine industry in terms of intensity, he says.