Conversion to save 2,400 tonnes of emissions a year

Fonterra converted the coal boiler at its Brightwater milk processing plant to co-fire on coal and wood, generating steam for process heat. The project received co-funding from EECA's Technology Demonstration fund.

The 7.2 megawatt boiler had burnt coal throughout its 32 year lifespan. Converting it to co-fire on coal and wood biomass cut site carbon emissions by an estimated 25% or 2,400 tonnes a year – the equivalent of taking 530 cars permanently off the road.

It was commissioned in November 2018.

Fonterra has 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. 

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

“Reducing our emissions to meet 2030 and 2050 targets requires a phased transition across our sites.  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 New Zealand where there aren’t affordable long-term alternative fuel sources. Even if an alternative source is available, it may not always be present in quantities required to power Fonterra’s boilers. 

Conveniently, wood fuel supplier Azwood Energy was located right next to the Fonterra plant in Brightwater. The wood energy it supplies to Brightwater 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.

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.

Fonterra Brightwater technology demonstration video(external link)

Fonterra  reducing emissions through coal boiler conversion video(external link)

Fonterra's media release - Te Awamutu site moves to pellet power(external link)

Technology Demonstration funding de-risks investment

Fonterra’s project was supported by the Technology Demonstration fund run by EECA (the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority). It was eligible because it demonstrated the emissions reductions potential of co-firing technology, and informs other businesses interested in following suit.

The co-funding helps to de-risk investment in under-utilised technology and helps businesses with the transition to a low-carbon future.

Technology demonstration fund