Biodiesel plant ready to fuel NZ's cars


Bits of beef and lamb we'd otherwise throw away are about to be turned into fuel by New Zealand's first commercial biodiesel plant.

The plant will soon go online -- and it's hoped it'll offset the carbon produced by as many as 17,000 diesel cars.

Ninety percent of what goes into the plant will come from cows and sheep, while the fatty bits will be melted into a green slush called tallow.

"It's not used as a food source. A hundred percent of its produced here in New Zealand so there's no deforestation associated with the production of tallow -- it's a by-product," Z Energy biofuels manager Steve Alesech explained.

What comes out is close to pure biodiesel, and will be blended with mineral diesel at the pumps.

"All that we ever send out of this plant in terms of waste is a very small quantity of water," Mr Alesech explained.

"That's water that's recovered from the incoming tallow and a very small quantity of water that's recovered from our methanol recovery process."

The $26 million plant is cutting edge and relies heavily on what Mr Alesech refers to as the "biodiesel distillation column".

"It's the part of the process that takes out glycerites. Now they're the bits of the biodiesel that can actually block your engine and what comes out is 100 percent pure biodiesel."

At first Z Energy will make its biodiesel blend available to commercial customers, but diesel car owners will pump it by the end of the year at a two cents a litre premium.

"Certainly people are wanting to do their bit for the environment and we're making that easy to do by making it available at our retail service stations," Mr Alesech said.

The plant will produce 20 million litres a year -- enough to offset what Palmerston North uses in electricity.

But Z hopes to double capacity at little cost -- and there's enough tallow around for two more plants, producing five percent of the country's diesel requirements.