Saturday, December 9, 2023

Biomass boilers and water treatment are Fonterra focus

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Winter shutdown will be spent converting boilers at three more sites to run on biomass instead of coal.
No new builds or shutdowns are planned for this shutdown period, says Fonterra’s director of manufacturing, Alan van der Nagel. The emphasis on sustainability projects.
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Fonterra will use the winter shutdown period of its processing plants to convert boilers at three sites to run on biomass instead of coal.

Boiler conversions are underway at Stirling in South Otago and Hautapu and Waitoa in Waikato, Fonterra’s director of manufacturing, Alan van der Nagel, said.

Stirling has been a two-year project and it will be the first full-scale biomass boiler for Fonterra in the South Island, he said.

Biomass pioneering site Fonterra Brightwater closed down two weeks ago and many of its staff members have been placed at other sites. It had a pilot-scale conversion about five years ago.

Two big boilers at Waitoa are being replaced with a biomass plant, which will come online in November.

The Hautapu boiler is a relatively low-cost conversion and is supported with $2.5 million from the Government Investment in Decarbonising Industry (GIDI) Process Heat Contestable Fund.

Hautapu is budgeted for $5m, whereas Waitoa is $97m and Stirling $34m.

Fonterra’s decarbonisation plan is to reduce emissions across all sites by 30% by 2030 towards net zero in 2050 and the complete phasing out of coal by 2037. Coal is used at nine of 29 sites nationwide.

“We are investing our shareholders’ money wisely and efficiently in decarbonisation and enhanced sustainability,” he said.

Water treatment upgrading is the second big theme of this winter shutdown, Van der Nagel said.

Work is underway at Te Awamutu, at a cost of $50m, and Tirau, and upgrades at a further eight sites are planned.

The pathways and discharges are different at each plant, according to resource consents and land available for irrigation.

Planned maintenance during winter shutdown is being welcomed post-covid without movement restrictions for Fonterra staff members and contractors, Van der Nagel said.

“This is the first year in three years that we have low restrictions, almost with a sigh of relief,” he said.

A feature of the past season was more milk-to-protein products like cheese, casein and milk protein concentrate, being non-reference products where profits flow to the bottom line.

The big building phase for foodsevice products such as UHT creams, cream cheese, sliced cheese and mozzarella has finished and those plants are running near optimum throughputs.

As foodservice demand rebuilds in China, Van der Nagel is confident that these plants at Clandeboye, Darfield, Eltham, Waitoa and Te Rapa have the capacity to grow.

Aside from the closure of Brightwater, no new builds or decommissioning is underway.

Winter milk, A2 and organic volumes are the same as the past two seasons, he said.

These flow through sites like Maungatūroto, Hautapu and Morrinsville.

Milk is also taken from Northland and Waikato to the Takanini, South Auckland plant of Fonterra Brands for making liquid milks and consumer products.

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