One of New Zealand’s largest red meat exporters, Alliance Group, is helping lead the way in Southland’s decarbonisation journey, with a goal to eliminate coal use by 2029.

Cutting the use of fossil fuels – primarily coal, gas and diesel – as a source of heat for industry, is one of New Zealand’s biggest and simplest decarbonisation opportunities.

Currently industrial processes that require steam and hot water emit around 10% of New Zealand’s total greenhouse gas emissions. Coal is still widely relied on in Southland despite the great progress that has been made as a region.

Alliance Group’s Manufacturing Manager, Willie Wiese, says that decarbonisation is critical for future-proofing from both a sustainability as well as a financial perspective.

“I think some businesses anticipate financial barriers to decarbonisation, and yes, the initial investment can certainly be a hurdle to overcome, but we have found that our operating costs have reduced, and by making the move earlier we can contribute far more to the 2050 emissions reductions targets.”

“Plus, we expect that environmental standards and regulations will change so it makes economic sense to get ahead of the curve.”

Wiese says moving away from fossil fuels is not only important for environmental sustainability, but also for brand-New Zealand.

“We want to continue to help New Zealand build a reputation as the world’s premier provider of sustainable food and solutions,” said Wiese.

He also talks to more localised opportunities from emissions reduction.

“Moving away from coal-fired boilers in addition to our other decarbonisation commitments will help improve local air quality,” said Wiese.

Alliance’s decarbonisation journey

Alliance Group is a farmer-owned co-operative – the meat processing company exports 95% of its lamb, beef and venison products to more than 65 countries.

The company has two processing plants in Southland at Lorneville and Mataura, and another five sites at Dannevirke, Levin, Nelson, Oamaru, and Timaru.

It is committed to removing coal from all its operations by 2029 and reducing its carbon emissions by 77% by 2035.

One major project was the New Zealand’s first high temperature heat pump, commissioned in 2019 at its Nelson plant. Within its first year of operation diesel use was reduced by 44% and on-site electrical efficiency was improved.

Emissions reduction projects at Alliance’s Southland sites

  • Installation of a high temperature heat pump and hot water reduction work at the Mataura plant which will enable the removal of an inefficient coal-fired boiler.
  • A heat demand reduction project with the installation of two heat pumps at Lorneville.
  • A 16MW electrode steam boiler which will provide steam and hot water to Alliance’s Lorneville processing plant, displacing the use of one of its coal fired boilers on plant.

Overcoming challenges

Delivering these multi-million-dollar projects is not straightforward for Alliance, with many hurdles to overcome along the way. An early example of this was when a lack of visibility regarding available renewable energy infrastructure capacity which caused delays to the Lorneville electrode boiler.

A newly published report by EECA (the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority), the Southland Regional Energy Transition Accelerator (RETA), aims to help Southland businesses fast-track decisions around switching to cleaner fuels and technology by facilitating collaboration and information sharing.

Wiese said Alliance has, as part of the RETA programme, identified a range of areas where partnering with other large energy users in the region will help with decision making, and allow the company (and others) to push boundaries.

“When it comes to process heat decarbonisation, one of the key decisions is around which fuel or technology to switch to,” said Wiese.

Alliance originally considered a biomass boiler for the Mataura plant, but electricity (a high temperature heat pump) was chosen as the technology was better suited for the hot water needs at the site.

This is also where EECA’s RETA programme comes in – the Southland report connects the demand and supply side to help the region (including industrial businesses) identify the best low carbon pathway.

Wiese stresses that decarbonisation is not just about technology and fuel switching, but also looking for ways to increase process efficiency and reduce demand for energy.

“New technology is exciting and offers so much potential to transform operations, but simple demand reduction has continued to make a material difference for Alliance – both in terms of emissions reduction and cost-efficiencies,” said Wiese.

Wiese wants other businesses to get on board – and is keen to share Alliance’s learnings to help accelerate efforts across the region.

“At Alliance we and we have a very clear sustainability pathway, and we want to show leadership in decarbonisation.”

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