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The Bioenergy Association of NZ had a liquid biofuels conference in Wellington last week (BANZ website here, proceedings soon to go up).

Under the radar, especially it would seem of a government more intent on fossil fuel exploitation, biodiesel and bioethanol are slowly increasing their market share.

The 50 or so attendees heard a number of case studies from users and suppliers of the renewable and carbon neutral forms of transport fuel, including Explore New Zealand’s William Goodfellow who says its use is an important part of the tourist company’s marketing.

Currently the rest of the world’s transport has about 3% renewable fuel use – compared to New Zealand’s 0.2%, with bioethanol responsible for 75% of our figure.

BANZ has, when you look at the potential, a quite achieveable target in 2040 of 30% of the nation’s transport fuels as biofuels.

One major component of those fuels would be the conversion of what is currently forestry waste into biodiesel – based on technology that currently exists, and which will only get better.

But one fly in the ointment is the lack of certainty on biofuels grants (effectively a subsidy, as one of many taxes doesn’t apply to biofuels) after June 2012.

In fact, a large Auckland ‘Ecodiesel‘ plant remains only three-quarters completed because no one knows whether the biofuels grant (which every other country has in some form or another) will be rolled over after next year. Though biofuels are gradually becoming price competitive compared to conventional diesel, it still can’t compete without the grant.

Which is a roundabout way of getting to the point that biofuels are an opportunity that New Zealand (are you listening Ministry of Economic Development) is failing to grasp.

The distraction (in the long term sense) of underground hydrocarbons, is stopping us from looking at harnessing the sun’s energy – today.

We are one of the few places that could, relatively easily, make a huge contribution to our energy needs through bioenergy.

We have biomass going to waste (literally), spare land on which to grow extra biomass, a low population, and clever scientists, technologists and engineers. Many knowledgeable overseas visitors can’t believe we’re not seizing the chance to go much greener.

This is perhaps the best, last, most emotional point.

We purport to be clean and green (but please don’t look too closely under the covers).

We’d be much more seen to be acting in that light if we did more than just talk the talk.

If government really got in in behind biofuels in particular and bioenergy in general, New Zealand would be much more seen as walking the walk.

BANZ is doing a good job, with limited funds.

Imagine what it could do with a bit more concerted encouragement.