Construction is set to begin on New Zealand's first large-scale food waste to bioenergy facility in Reporoa.
Each year the facility is expected to remove up to 10,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide – the equivalent of planting 218,400 trees every year.
After the blessing of the land by Ngāti Tahu-Ngati Whaoa today, construction will begin on the anaerobic digestion facility, which is owned by Ecogas – a joint venture between Pioneer Energy Ltd and Ecostock Supplies Ltd – on land owned by T&G Fresh, one of New Zealand's largest fresh produce businesses.
Ecogas director Andrew Fisher said the world-class facility would help New Zealand deal with some of the 327,000 annual tonnes of food waste that goes into landfills around the country.
"By using world-leading, innovative technology our anaerobic digestion facility will not only help address New Zealand's food waste challenge, it'll help power the local community, local glasshouses, enrich local farmland, and create jobs and growth for the region," he said.
The facility, which will be operational in 2022, will turn 75,000 tonnes of organic waste from businesses and kerbside food scrap collections throughout the North Island into sustainable renewable clean energy.
"It will create enough energy to annually power up the equivalent of around 2500 households in the region, produce clean bio-fertiliser for approximately 2000 hectares of local farmland, and provide CO2 and heat to enhance the growth of tomatoes in T&G Fresh's local glasshouse. The outcome is a carbon-neutral, circular economy solution," Fisher said.
"It's innovative solutions and real-world science like this, which we believe New Zealand needs to increasingly pilot and adopt, that will help us as a nation meet our zero-carbon targets."
Anaerobic digestion technology is well proven overseas - similar plants operate in Europe and the United States - however Reporoa's joint venture will be the first commercial-scale facility in New Zealand.
Funded by Ecogas and a 2019 $7 million loan from the Provincial Growth Fund, the $30m state-of-the-art facility will provide a welcome infrastructure boost to the local economy and generate close to 60 jobs through the construction process.
T&G Fresh managing director Andrew Keaney said partnering with Ecogas helped T&G source renewable energy and reduce its carbon emissions.
"We have firm targets to reduce our carbon emissions by 22 per cent by 2025. To help meet this, we're continually exploring innovative solutions to source renewable energy.
"Partnering with Ecogas, and enabling them to build this facility adjacent to our tomato glasshouse operation in Reporoa, enables us to purchase renewable electricity, heat and CO2, which is needed to enhance the growing conditions of our tomatoes.
"Kaitiakitanga is an integral part of how T&G does business. We see ourselves as guardians of our land, people, produce, resources and community – and we want to do everything we can to treat them with the greatest of respect and care.
"So partnering with like-minded organisations like Ecogas, to be part of New Zealand's first commercial bioenergy and bio fertiliser plant, is a very exciting opportunity for us, the region and New Zealand," he said.
Ecogas was recently awarded Auckland Council's 20-year kerbside food scrap processing contract, which is expected to supply some of the initial food waste to the Reporoa facility, using construction trucks that would otherwise be returning to the region empty.
The Reporoa facility is well-positioned to access many existing transport links as they criss-cross the North Island, including back loads out of main centres such as Auckland and Tauranga, which get construction aggregate generated in the local quarries. Ecogas has also acquired a second site to build another anaerobic digestion facility in Auckland as demand grows.
Auckland Council general manager for waste solutions Parul Sood said: "Food waste is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. Almost half the weight of a kerbside rubbish bin is food scraps. Rather than throwing them away, we can be turning them into more food and renewing the land.
"This sustainable solution brings a practical approach to addressing the climate emergency we are in. Auckland has a goal of getting to zero waste by 2040, and this project will help us get there."