Prior to processing into garments or carpets, wool needs to be cleaned. It’s an energy intensive process but WoolWorks, New Zealand’s leading wool scourer, has long been a champion of environmentally sustainable practices.
The company has been working with EECA since 2016 to reduce their energy usage. As part of that journey, their latest project will see them replacing coal with electricity to power their Timaru site in a world-leading initiative.
EECA (Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority) is investing $3.63 million through the Government Investment in Decarbonising Industry initiative (GIDI Fund), to co-fund the switch from coal to electricity at the Washdyke site near Timaru. WoolWorks (formerly known as New Zealand Woolscouring Ltd) will invest $2.79 million.
It’s one of 14 successful project applications to the GIDI Fund with the government committing almost $23m in co-funding to help businesses transition away from fossil fuels.
"We were on a path to reduce our dependence on coal but it would probably have been closer to 2030 before we got there," says WoolWorks Chief Executive Nigel Hales. "The funding has helped fast track the process and was the driving force behind the decision to move away from coal."
"We're one of the world's best in terms of total usable energy per kilogram of wool and that started to drive our thinking in terms of how can we be better? We're continually looking at ways to reduce the impact of our operations on the environment. We've already reduced our energy by over 20 percent and this investment shows how serious we are about playing our part to address climate change."
WoolWorks washes wool so it can be processed into the next stage. They process it, blend it, and assemble it into 20 tonne lots for their export customers. The washing process is very similar to an automatic washing machine but on a much larger scale. The wool goes through six bowls of water heated at different temperatures. The scour lines are up to 100 metres long and three metres wide and contain 27 cubic metres of water, so there are significant energy costs to heat the water and run the machines.
The GIDI funding will be used to install an electrode boiler to produce steam and an industrial heat pump to generate hot water. The project is expected to reduce over 11,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions every year, the equivalent of removing 3,021 cars off the road.
Mr Hales says the company has made significant gains in improving the efficiency of its world-class scour operations, leading the way globally for the total useful energy usage per kilogram of wool and reducing its carbon footprint.
"Through this project we will provide the New Zealand wool sector with a unique low-carbon start to the global supply chain, which we believe will support increased demand for New Zealand wool. Rather than planting our way out of the climate change problem by purchasing pine trees to offset our greenhouse gas emissions, we are choosing to do the right thing by the environment and actually reducing our emissions."
"This was all about doing the right thing for the business, doing the right thing for the environment, and working with great partners such as EECA and Meridian Energy."
EECA Chief Executive Andrew Caseley says EECA has worked with WoolWorks since 2016 and supported a number of initiatives aimed at eliminating coal at the Timaru site.
"The company's well-crafted decarbonisation pathway through EECA's Energy Transition Accelerator and their 'energy efficiency first' approach, has set WoolWorks up for success for the last stage of fuel switching in an economically sustainable manner."
WoolWorks will use Meridian's Certified Renewable Energy product to purchase renewable energy certificates to verify that the amount of electricity it uses from the grid is matched on an annual basis with electricity produced from Meridian’s certified hydro stations and wind farms.
Meridian CEO Neal Barclay recognised the commitment that WoolWorks has made to decarbonisation and combating climate change.
"WoolWorks is showing real climate leadership at a critical time. Meridian is proud to partner with WoolWorks to help reduce their environmental impact and demonstrate their commitment to climate action to their international customers."
WoolWorks is the largest wool scourer by volume in the world and handles 76 per cent of all New Zealand wool. Every year, the company's three sites in Napier, Hastings, and Timaru wash more than 100,000,000 kilograms of wool, ranging from superfine merino to crossbred. The company employs 150 people across a wide range of operational, technical, engineering, administrative and management roles.