Its electrode boiler, commissioned in March, is the first large-scale plant of its type to be installed in New Zealand.
It’s also the first major step toward the company halving its off-farm greenhouse emissions by 2028, the company says.
“The deliberate decision to not build another coal boiler is part of Synlait’s bold sustainability strategy announced in June 2018 and leads the way to a lower emissions future for NZ,” Synlait chief executive Leon Clement said at the opening of the facility by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
The process heat and steam from the six-megawatt plant powers Synlait’s advanced dairy liquids facility and is used to pasteurise and sterilise milk, clean production lines and equipment and help create product packaging.
The boiler is more efficient than a traditional water tube boiler because only a small amount of water is heated.
Maintenance costs are low compared to a coal-fired boiler and an annual maintenance turnaround takes only two days.
The boiler is running at 6MW capacity based on current demand but was designed to do up to 12MW. Synlait is working with electricity lines company Orion to enable the greater supply in future.
Separately, the company is running an environmental improvement programme, Whakapuawai, based on restoring and regenerating native ecosystems, waterways and wetlands, flora and fauna.
The programme is about drawing people and groups together to improve water quality and restore diversity and re-establish mahinga kai, the places and natural resources that are important to Maori, Clement said.
It involves landscaping and planting 15ha of grazing land around the Dunsandel plant, growing over time to include a wetland, walking tracks, exercise zones and meeting areas.
Farmers will be given free plants from the company’s nursery to regenerate parts of their properties and Synlait staff will be given one paid day a year to contribute to the initiative. It is expected some staff will spend time helping farmers helping with regeneration projects.
Whakapuawai will extend to nearby areas like Te Waihora Lake Ellesmere, which has been significantly degraded as a result of changes in surrounding land use.
The lake and surrounding wetland were once home to thousands of species of animals and plants and a critical source of food for Ngai Tahu. Synlait is forming a partnership with local hapu, Ngai Te Ruahikihiki, on projects starting with planting and wetland restoration around Muriwai (Cooper’s Lagoon).
“We hope the improvements to this small piece of land will become an exemplar for restoration that landowners all around Te Waihora will follow,” Clement said.
In July last year Synlait launched a 10-year sustainability plan that included water use, greenhouse gases, nitrogen loss, palm kernel and coal.