Building New Zealanders knowledge and awareness of their Maritime Estate. With its networks in matters maritime and environment, the Foundation is able to provide advice and knowledge across the areas of research, outreach and consultation.
As a maritime nation Aotearoa needs a world class aquarium to focus on Conservation, Education and Research. The New Zealand Oceans Foundation is delighted to support Project Shapeshifter – a project that is set to deliver such centre of study.
We need a place
that tells the story of the sea. A place that connects New Zealanders, young
and old with the realities of their vast
maritime estate. Developing a national awareness of our role as guardians and
stewards of our maritime environment is essential in the evolution of our sense
of national identity and our very destiny as a nation. The National Aquarium
must do nothing less than to change the way that we see ourselves and our
We are the inheritors of deep seafaring traditions from our founding peoples. The wisdom of all New Zealanders will need to be drawn on as we work as a country to create a place to learn about our marine environment, the riches that it supports, the fragile nature of its existence and the central role that the sea has to life on this planet. Maori as well as Pakeha, young and old, the well-established and the newly arrived all have a part to play in creating this taonga that will showcase our marine sciences and technology for the benefit of all New Zealanders and our neighbours in the region.
Project Shapeshifter is a challenge too large for any one organisation to embrace. Instead it will require a nationwide commitment to bring it to life.
The latest report on the Marine Environment points to a pattern of under-investment in basic science and the collation and interpretation of data that is required for effective national decision making in other areas that relate to the oceans.
The report makes for powerful
reading. There are some positive stories but these seem to be strongly
outweighed by the negatives. Amongst the positives, the status of southern
right whales has improved (from nationally vulnerable to recovering) and the New
Zealand sea lion has moved from being in a nationally endangered state to one
which is merely vulnerable. The status of two shorebirds, the northern New
Zealand dotterel and the pied stilt/poaka, have both improved. Our fisheries,
with some exceptions, have stabilised.
On the other hand, while very few
marine species are assessed (see below), of those species that have been
assessed, 22% of marine mammals, 90% of seabirds and 80% of shorebirds are
threatened with, or at actual risk of, extinction. From a national conservation
perspective, this is truly appalling.
a better understanding of our environment
On our reading, one of the issues
that emerges most strongly from this report, is the relative paucity of data on
which many of the issues discussed are being assessed. The report concludes
with a significant list of areas in which our knowledge of the marine
environment is patchy at best. Reports of this kind are not written in emotive
language, but on the evidence here, there is every reason to think that New
Zealand has been under-investing for far too long in basic data collection and
assessment and that it is time that we pulled up our socks.
The Oceans Foundation has seen
the same pattern of under-investment in basic science and the collation and
interpretation of data that is required for effective national decision making
in other areas that relate to the oceans. This is true in the area of our
offshore minerals and metals and it is also true for the issues covered in this
report. New Zealand can do better.
Kelp farming in New Zealand has an obvious future as a macro-algae concentrate for soil and plant health, as an ingredient in various specialty food products and additives, as cattle feed and for the top dressing of pasture. Whether it can ever be farmed in sufficient quantity to act as a useful adjunct to carbon sequestration efforts on land remains to be seen. In her interview with Kim Hill on National Radio recently (12 October), Dr Marjan Van Den Belt mentioned a back of the envelop calculation that apparently showed that if a way could be found to grow kelp on offshore floating platforms in New Zealand’s EEZ, the amount of kelp required to offset ALL of New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions would take up a mere 2% of our EEZ.
NZ will need to focus on both land-based and ocean resources to meet its carbon zero goals
Current policy in New Zealand towards the lowering of our
greenhouse gas emissions is focussed on the land-based economy. But now there
is a new reality. If we are to meet our zero carbon goals, New Zealand will need
to think of both its land and its oceans as comprising a single interlinked
system. To date, it is land use issues which have dominated much of the
discussion around zero carbon. At the New Zealand Oceans Foundation
(www.oceansnz.com), we think that government needs to give urgent attention to how
New Zealand’s oceans might also contribute, along with the land-based economy,
to meeting our Paris commitments and the government’s zero carbon goals.
The most authoritative discussion
on transition pathways to a lower emissions economy is contained in a report by
the Productivity Commission. This report was released in August 2018:
asked to advise on how New Zealand can best make the transition to a low
emissions economy, while at the same time continuing to grow incomes and
wellbeing, is perhaps the most profound and far-reaching mandate the Commission
could be tasked with. After an extensive inquiry process, we conclude that New
Zealand can indeed make this transition. But there will be tough challenges
along the way. It will require consistent and concerted effort across
government, business, households and communities – up to and beyond 2050. Among
the numerous changes that will be required across the economy – some disruptive
some less obvious – three particular shifts must happen for New Zealand to
achieve its low-emissions goals: 1) we stop burning fossil fuels and where possible,
switch to use of electricity and other low-emission energy sources; 2) we
undertake substantial new afforestation (our emphasis); and 3) we make
changes to the structure and methods of agricultural production.’
The role of New Zealand’s oceans
There is nothing in the report of
the Commission on how New Zealand’s oceans might contribute to a lower carbon emissions
economy through carbon sequestration, or carbon capture and storage. The
solutions offered are all land-based.
This is puzzling on at least two
counts. First, our oceans are 15 times more extensive in area than our land.
Second, the oceans are the world’s greatest carbon sink. If ways could be found
to increase the carbon sequestration potential of our oceans, without
acidifying or warming them further, or to use the Maui offshore gas fields for
carbon capture and storage, this seems to us to be an approach worth committing
to. Not instead of necessary changes in land use, or of efforts to
reduce greenhouse gases in the first place, but as a supplement to
land-based efforts and in order to reduce the potential negative impacts of
policies based solely around the land-based economy.[i]
Framing the zero carbon response
only in land-based terms ignores an important reality. New Zealand’s land and
oceans are a single strategic entity. What happens in one affects the other.
Developing our oceans-based economy requires the contribution of resources that
only our land-based institutions can provide. Lifting our national wealth,
remediating land-based environmental damage and lowering our carbon emissions will
require the resources that only the oceans can provide.
We will come back to the role of
the oceans. First, some background on afforestation, aspects of which appear
On large scale afforestation, the
Productivity Commission comments as follows:
offsets just under one-third of New Zealand’s gross emissions. Yet, because
planting rates have dropped sharply since the planting boom in the 1990s, and
many of these forests are shortly due for harvest, carbon offsets from forestry
are likely to decline if there is not a significant increase in planting. Land
use will need to change substantially if New Zealand is to transition to a
low-emissions economy by 2050. In particular, land planted in forests will need
to increase by between 1.3 million and 2.8 million hectares, mostly converted
from marginally profitable beef and sheep land.’ (pg 325ff Productivity Commission report
Under this approach what
percentage of New Zealand’s land needs to be taken for new afforestation? Our
land area is 26.8 million hectares of which roughly one third is in the
conservation estate. Mature forests cover 29% of New Zealand’s land area and a
further 8% is planted out in commercial forests (mainly in pinus radiata).
This means that 37% of New Zealand’s land area is already in forest. If a
further 2.8 million hectares is given over to a new mass afforestation
programme this will add another 10%, at which point the proportion of New
Zealand’s land area covered in forest will be a total of 47%. Very nearly half
of all our land will be in either mature or plantation forest.
How likely is it that this much
land can be found for new forestry? The Productivity Commission advises as
has sufficient suitable land to greatly expand afforestation to sequester
carbon. This land includes over a million hectares of highly erodible land
unsuited to pastoral agriculture (though some of this is also unsuited to
forestry). The land is both privately and publicly held. The availability of
privately held land will depend on the economics, including the prospective
price of NZUs[ii]
over the growing period and at harvest. The availability of
government-controlled land for further afforestation is uncertain.’[iii]
That a significant new programme
of afforestation will be required if New Zealand is to meet its zero carbon
goal seems beyond doubt. Yet a massive afforestation programme has its problems,
not the least of which is the willingness of New Zealand’s sheep and beef
farmers to see their more marginal land converted to forestry. There does not
seem to be any stocktake readily available of just how much marginal land is
suitable for afforestation even if the economics are compelling. The
Productivity Commission refers to ‘over a million’ hectares of land as unsuited
to pastoral farming, but this is well short of the 2.8 million hectares the
Commission envisages being needed for afforestation if New Zealand is to meet
its carbon zero goals.
There are other problems. If pinus
radiata turns out to be the main production species planted, this is not a
permanent solution to carbon sequestration since harvesting releases a portion
of the carbon back into the atmosphere, and the carbon otherwise ends up being
exported as logs or sawn timber, which simply transfers New Zealand’s carbon
problem to other jurisdictions. Moreover, if a radiata pine forest is left untended
and unfelled, after the carbon planting credits have been pocketed by investors
after a quick dollar, it will eventually die (the life of pinus radiata
is less than a 100 years) and be replaced by low value scrub and secondary
growth of dubious economic value.
There are other objections to pinus
radiata related to the effects on landscape and cultural values, and
concerns over biodiversity. The Environmental Defence Society does not support
a massive expansion of monoculture pine plantations across New Zealand’s
landscape, partly because of the decrease in biodiversity and the risks of
monoculture planting and partly because of the negative effects on landscape
quality and tourism. Overseas visitors do not come to New Zealand because they
want to see mass plantings of pine forest.
approaches to carbon zero required
As the Productivity Commission has
‘It is important to recognise the temporary nature of
forest sequestration. Because there are limits to how much forestry the country
can sustain, forestry will only buy time. In the longer term, new approaches to
bring net emissions to zero will be required. It is critical that emissions
reductions in other parts of the economy continue alongside afforestation.’
Economic and Public Policy Research (www.motu.org.nz)
have picked up on this theme in a recent research note on ‘New Offset Options
for New Zealand’.
note synthesises the current state of scientific knowledge around the issues
associated with three innovative carbon reduction or removal options in a New
Zealand context: soil carbon; marine carbon (sometimes called blue carbon) and
carbon capture and storage.
Kelp save the world
a recent Climate X Sprint event sponsored by the Climate Leaders Coalition, a
team calling itself ‘Kelp save the world’ won with a presentation based on the
use of seaweed as a Climate X (blue carbon) solution. Aiming to become the
‘Fonterra of seaweed’ its story was based on the following pitch:
‘Seaweed grows 30% faster than land based plants, sequesters 2.3 times more CO2 than pine, requires no additional fertiliser, feed or watering, doesn’t compete for land with other industries, reduces ocean acidification and naturally sheds 11.5% of its biomass while growing – permanently sequestering any stored carbon and removing it from the cycle.
‘Seaweed also has some incredible end-user
applications – it is able to be used in agar (petrie dishes), it can be used as
a biogas, can be eaten (hello sushi!), is a natural fertiliser – cutting down
on nitrates in agriculture and can be turned into PHA plastics that can replace
polyethylene, polyurethane and polypropylene. Research is also just coming to
light that suggests as little as a 2% supplement of seaweed in cattle feed
could reduce cattle methane emissions by as much as 50%! Also, as the emissions
trading scheme matures and legislation catches up, seaweed carbon credits could
be traded on the ETS.’
Carbon sequestration and capture: a role
for New Zealand’s oceans
thinking about a possible contribution from our oceans to meeting New Zealand’s
Paris commitments, three broad approaches are possible: (i) farming kelp; (ii)
carbon capture and storage in the Maui offshore natural gas fields; and (iii)
understanding and potentially manipulating photosynthetic processes at the
this commentary we discuss the large-scale farming of kelp. In further commentaries
we will look at carbon capture and storage and photosynthetic processes in our
Blue carbon: kelp farming as a complement
An introduction to the role of
marine ecosystems in sequestering carbon is contained in a recent paper by
Harvard graduate students Sylvia Hurliman and Hannah Zucker. Coastal ecosystems
such as mangroves, sea grass and kelp sequester surprisingly large amounts of
carbon – up to 20 times more per unit area than land- based forests. Moreover,
in the case of kelp, which is a macroalgae, the claim is that much of the
carbon ends up being stored permanently on the deep ocean seabed in the form of
New Zealand’s largest and fastest
growing species of kelp is Giant Kelp or Macrocystis pyrifera. Sometimes
known as bladder kelp, it is often seen washed up on beaches and shorelines
around New Zealand. It has been described as the world’s fastest growing plant
as well as one of the most ancient plant species in the world. It forms large
forests in the deep sheltered waters around the South Island of New Zealand and
can be recognised by the gas filled pods at the base of each frond. These bouyant
pods help hold the fronds upright in the water, exposing them to the maximum
amount of sunlight, aiding their efficiency at photosynthesis and contributing
to their extremely rapid growth rate.
Kelp may be much more efficient
per unit area at carbon sequestration than land-based pine forests. The
question is whether or not it can be farmed in the marine environment of New
Zealand (as distinct from growing wild) and, if so, whether the additional
hectares ‘planted out’ would qualify for counting under existing international
carbon accounting rules and hence qualify for carbon farming credits.
Since kelp grows naturally on
submerged rocky outcrops, one measure of suitability for kelp farming is the
length of a country’s coastline. On this measure New Zealand, with the ninth
longest coastline in the world[iv],
looks like it might be a promising candidate.
Estimating a possible upper limit
to the potential planting area for kelp is problematic. With a coastal length for
New Zealand of 15,000 plus kms, and assuming that kelp might typically grow in
a narrow margin out to 30-60 meters offshore, the upper limit for coastal
planting is possibly in the order of 45-90,000 hectares. Even assuming Hurliman
and Zucker’s figure for the sequestration efficiency of kelp over pine as being
a multiple of 20, the total upper sequestration limit is probably no more than
around 900,000 – 1,800,000 hectares of pine forest equivalent. There are
probably too many assumptions built into this figure for it to be very useful,
but given that the Productivity Commission is calling for new plantation
forests totalling in the range of 1.3-2.8 million hectares, it does look as if
kelp could take up a sizeable portion of the whole and might therefore be a
useful adjunct to land-based forests.
There is an obvious objection of
course. The prospect of converting sizeable areas of the New Zealand coastline
to kelp farming is probably a markedly less attractive idea even than covering
47% of New Zealand’s land area with pine trees. No doubt a careful balance between
land-based pine trees and ocean-based kelp farming would need to be struck
bearing in mind landscape, beachscape and environmental issues. Perhaps what
this discussion best illustrates is the wisdom of reducing gross carbon
emissions at source wherever possible, rather than seeking to rely to an undue
extent on sequestering carbon.
Zealand research into kelp sequestration
Research in New Zealand into kelp
sequestration is at a relatively early stage but interest in seaweed farming is
developing and a number of researchers have been active in the field.
Associate Professor Dr Nick
Shears (Director of the Leigh Marine Laboratory and President of the New
Zealand Marine Sciences Society) is working with postdoctoral student Caitlin
Blain on research into the role of kelp forests in carbon sequestration and pH
Dr Wendy Nelson, principal scientist at NIWA and a researcher at Auckland University, is co-author of an award winning paper on ‘Carbon dioxide mitigation potential of seaweed aquaculture beds (SABs)’. This paper appeared in the Journal of Applied Phycology, Issue 5, Volume 29, October 2017.
Popular interest in seaweed
farming is also picking up. On Saturday 12 October Dr Marjan Van Den Belt was
interviewed by National Radio’s Kim Hill on seaweed farming, carbon
sequestration, environmental and economic aspects and the need for government
policy in this area. The interview is available as a podcast at https://www.rnz.co.nz/national/programmes/saturday.
Marjan is a strategic partner at the sustainability
consulting firm Ki Uta Ki Tai (from the mountains to the sea) at www.terramoana.co.nz/ and the convener of seaweed
collective ReGen Sea. This collective works to promote the role of seaweed in a
regenerative economy. Their website is at https://www.regensea.co.nz.
interest in seaweed in New Zealand
Finally, for examples of how commercial interest in seaweed
in New Zealand has been developing, three firms are of particular interest.
Based in Paeroa in the Waikato, Agrisea have been
manufacturing macro-algae concentrates and bioactive extractions for use in
soil, plant, animal and human health applications since 1996. Their website is
Pacific Harvest on Auckland’s
North Shore manufacture and export a wide variety of seaweed-based products
including agar, furikake, kelp seasonings, kombu, wakame and karengo. Their
website is at https://www.pacificharvest.co.nz.
Roger and Nicki Beattie are innovative farmers based on the Banks Peninsula who have been developing food grade kelp under the brand name Valére, and kelp for agricultural and horticultural uses under the brand name Zelp. The Beatties have pioneered sustainable harvesting of Giant Kelp (Macrocsystis pyrifera) in a bay on the Banks Peninsula and they dry the kelp at their farm in Lansdowne Valley. Their website is at https://www.rnbeattie.co.nz/nz-kelp
For a short, inspirational video on the Beattie’s approach to regenerative farming that features the farming of a wild sheep breed from the Chathams, weka, blue pearls and kelp, see the link at https://youtu.be/vtoeuKjCBzE.
Kelp farming in New Zealand has
an obvious future as a macro-algae concentrate for soil and plant health, as an
ingredient in various specialty food products and additives, as cattle feed and
for the top dressing of pasture. Whether it can ever be farmed in sufficient
quantity to act as a useful adjunct to carbon sequestration efforts on land
remains to be seen. In her interview with Kim Hill on National Radio recently
(12 October), Dr Marjan Van Den Belt mentioned a back of the envelop
calculation that apparently showed that if a way could be found to grow kelp on
offshore floating platforms in New Zealand’s EEZ, the amount of kelp required
to offset ALL of New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions would take up a mere 2%
of our EEZ.
This sounds very doable, until we
remember that the area of our EEZ is 4 million sq kms. 2% of this is a massive 80,000
sq kms, which implies a series of extraordinarily large floating arrays and an
engineering challenge of overwhelming complexity and cost (the largest ship
currently afloat is a floating liquified natural gas tanker, the FLNG Prelude,
which is 1600 feet long and 243 feet wide). Unless these giant kelp floating
arrays were somehow built out of waste plastic engineered to be
semi-submersible, the carbon emissions cost involved in building a sufficient
array of steel kelp platforms would probably be self-defeating.
An alternative might be to think
of concentrating and farming the kelp, or alternatively some other species of a
free-floating planktonic seaweed, to form a kind of New Zealand mini-Sargasso
in one of our ocean gyres (an area of our oceans that is effectively contained
by circulating ocean currents). The South Pacific gyre is too large to be
considered, but there is a clockwise circulating gyre in the Ross Sea, for
example, that might conceivably be made to serve such a purpose. The waters of
the Ross Sea are nutrient rich as a result of the upwelling of cold water from
the depths. The area of the Ross Sea gyre is not known with any accuracy but it
is probably of the order of 2-3 million sq kms[vi],
which puts it into the right range for consideration as a naturally contained
but artificially induced, macro algae-based, planktonic carbon sequestration
primary unit of trade in the Emissions Trading Scheme is the New Zealand Unit
(NZU), also called a carbon credit. One NZU represents 1 tonne of carbon
dioxide (or the equivalent for other greenhouse gases). Entities that remove
greenhouses gases, like those in forestry, can earn units from the government,
which they can sell to companies that emit.
length of the New Zealand coastline is listed in the CIA World Factbook as
15,134 kms. This gives New Zealand a longer coastline than either China or
India, and greater than the UK or France. The length of the US coastline is
only a little greater than NZ’s. Japan and Australia have significantly longer
coastlines than New Zealand, as does Indonesia.
Sargasso Sea is located in the Northern Atlantic Subtropical Gyre. It is
roughly ellipsoid in shape and has an estimated surface area of 11 million sq kms
(nearly 3 times the area of New Zealand’s EEZ). The Sargasso Sea derives its
name from a seaweed called Sargassum, a genus of brown macroalgae which is
planktonic (free floating).
area of the Antarctic continent is usually given as 14 million sq kms. The Ross
Sea gyre looks like it is probably of the order of one quarter to one fifth of
this in area.
potential impact of any such initiative on sustainable fisheries and other
ecosystems would need to be considered in terms of New Zealand’s responsibilities
as a signatory of both the Antarctic Treaty and the Convention on the
Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). Presumably none of
the signatories to either of these Treaties would have had in mind possible
future carbon sequestration requirements at the time these Treaties were
originally negotiated (1959 and 1982 respectively).
‘When War Comes’ was the headline
to an editorial published in the 7-13 September 2019 edition of the New Zealand
Listener. The Abqaiq and Khurais oil processing facilities were attacked and
set on fire on 14 September. Readers will agree that it would be impossible to
be more prescient than this.
Earlier, Yemeni Houthi armed forces spokesman Brigadier General Yahya Sare’e claimed responsibility for the attacks. He said that they were a legitimate response to US-backed Saudi attacks on Yemen. US Secretary of State Pompeo has said that there is no evidence that the attacks came from Yemen. ‘Amid all the calls for de-escalation, Iran has launched an unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply’.
Under the heading: ‘All out war’: The dire consequences of Iran’s Saudi ‘air strike attack, todays NZ Herald paints a different picture with evidence from the Saudi Defence Ministry that the attack emanated from Iran. So, another sign of escalating tension in a region which is key to New Zealand’s economic well being and our interests are at risk. See; https://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=12269625
Oil industry experts say that the attacks have affected around 50% of Saudi oil exports or 5% of global oil supplies. It is not clear how quickly the damage can be repaired.
For New Zealand, the attacks
remind us that we are at the end of a very long supply line for imported oil. They
also remind us how dependent the New Zealand economy is on shipping. More than
90% of our trade by value and 99% by volume is transported by sea. Any
disruption to this trade, whether at source, as in Saudi Arabia over the
weekend, or at sea, would have serious consequences for us.
Yet, it also has to be asked, why
have petrol prices in New Zealand spiked within a mere three days of the
refinery attacks? What is it about the way in which our oil markets operate
that drive such an instant response when we should be buffered both by distance
and the existence of ample stocks of prepaid oil already in the system?
Zealand oil stocks and the IEA
New Zealand has obligations to
the International Energy Agency (IEA) to hold oil stocks equivalent to 90 days
supply (net oil imports). In practice, we meet that obligation through a
combination of oil stocks held domestically plus ‘ticket contracts’ tendered for
on the international oil market. Governments holding stocks for us under ticket
arrangements at the present time include the UK, Japan, Denmark, Spain and the
Netherlands. Obviously, it would take some weeks to draw down on these stocks
but the question remains: if the oil held in our domestic stocks has already
been paid for under an old contract price, what is it that justifies petrol
companies responding within days to increases in the international benchmark
It appears that there is no good
answer from either government or the industry to this very obvious question.
The answer is that ‘this is just the way the market works.’ Which is not even
the beginnings of an attempt at an explanation. To the ordinary person, this
just looks like opportunistic behaviour.
What these figures mean is that
if the benchmark price changes by 10%, then the cost to motorists should change
by only 29% of that again, or a little under a third. In practice, matters are
a little more complicated than that because currency fluctuations can
intervene. That said, the AA advises that the general rule of thumb still holds
good, which is that for every US dollar change in the Dubai benchmark, which is
where most of our imported oil comes from, motorists can expect to see about a
1 NZ cent price change at the pump.
This was borne out yesterday (17
September) by BP, which announced a 6 cents per litre price rise, effective
immediately, in response to an upwards spike in the benchmark price of around 6
What we say
We are vulnerable to attacks such
as those over the weekend. We are at the end of the whip. The effects appear to
be magnified the further we are away from the source of the trouble. Maj Gen
Sir Howard Kippenberger, Commander of the New Zealand Division in WWII, used to
say that the approaches to New Zealand begin in the Middle East. In some ways,
70 years on, that may still be true.
Certainly, the attacks on the Abqaiq
and Khurais oil processing facilities and the immediate spike in petrol prices
at the petrol pump seem to underline General Kippenberger’s belief. They also
underscore the importance of our sea borne trade routes and our ability to
protect those routes. And they remind us of the importance of finding ways to
defuse tensions in the Middle East and accommodate the legitimate aspirations
of all regional actors, Iran, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States included.
That said, there can be no excuse
for the attacks on oil refineries when the UN and other international bodies
have ample dispute resolution mechanisms available with which to address
grievances. The sanctions imposed by the United States on Iran following the US
withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA: the Iran nuclear
deal) may well be exacerbating the problem and driving the behaviour of Iran and
its allies in ways that could lead to a very serious miscalculation. But there
are reasons for these sanctions in Washington’s eyes, and Iran and the United
States need to address those reasons urgently.
In the meantime we are reminded
daily at the petrol pump of the consequences of a failure to find enduring
solutions to the problems of the Middle East, including most particularly
between the US and Iran.
the Listener Editorial said
The Listener Editorial (September
7th) raises some very timely points. It asks if New Zealand is in
danger of ignoring, or at least underestimating, the risk that New Zealand will
be caught up in war again. It argues that the rise of a new generation of
politicians, many of whom are veterans of protests against the Vietnam War,
brought a sea change in attitudes. The result was a shift away from offensive
capability to a defence policy focused on politically less contentious
We think that this factor is now
dying out. To have been politically active during the last phases of the
Vietnam War would mainly apply to the generation of 60 year old New Zealanders
and older. Age may not weary them, but this generation is passing from the
political scene. Younger New Zealanders, seeing Trump sabre rattling over Iran,
China asserting itself militarily in the South China Sea, and North Korea
posturing over nuclear missiles, are more likely, we think, to see New
Zealand’s defence requirements in a different and more sombre light than the
The Listener queries whether we
still live in what Helen Clark memorably described as ‘an incredibly benign
strategic environment’. As the Listener argues, while developments over Iran,
the South China Sea and North Korea may not directly imperil New Zealand, our
economy depends on trade and the maintenance of open sea lanes, which could be
threatened in the event of war. ‘We cannot pretend to be immune from risk’.
The Listener is to be
congratulated for raising these questions. It notes that under Defence Minister
Ron Mark, the Government has ‘taken long-overdue strides towards upgrading its
defence inventory’. This is true. But much remains to be done still to equip
New Zealand to promote and protect its maritime and oceanic interests in the
strategic environment of the 30s, 40s and 50s.
Strategic messaging from The Minister for Energy and Resources
On 2 September MBIE released a 92 page discussion paper on ‘A vision for hydrogen in New Zealand’. In her foreword to the paper, Hon Dr Megan Woods, Minister for Energy and Resources, says that the government’s aim in releasing the green paper is to signal the opportunities that hydrogen can bring to New Zealand and frame nation-wide discussions around a national strategy for hydrogen. Public consultations close on 25 October. The link to the green paper is at https://www.mbie.govt.nz/have-your-say/a-vision-for-hydrogen-in-new-zealand-public-consultation/.
For the Oceans Foundation, one of
the most interesting sections of MBIE’s very comprehensive discussion paper is
on the potential role of hydrogen as a value-intensive new export commodity. Within
our own region Japan, Korea and China are heavily dependent on imported energy.
They could be partners in a new energy relationship with New Zealand (and
Australia) based on hydrogen. This could dramatically reduce their dependency
on Middle East oil supplies, lowering the risk of interdiction by Iran and
other international actors in the Persian Gulf and the Straits of Hormuz, and
adding a valuable new energy export dimension to our international
The export of green hydrogen looks like being a very promising opportunity. With abundant renewable energy sources available to it, New Zealand has the potential to significantly increase its production of renewable energy and this could enable us to position ourselves as a reliable, long term clean energy exporter to international energy markets using green hydrogen as the energy carrier. The government sees this as a strategic advantage that New Zealand should be actively exploring, and the Oceans Foundation agrees, noting only that the flow of a constant parade of bulk liquid hydrogen carriers from Australia and New Zealand to Japan, Korea and China has significant security implications that we should be thinking about and planning for at the outset.
Hydrogen is the simplest and most abundant element in the visible universe, comprising 74% of all baryonic mass (planets, comets, stars, black holes etc). It is the raw fuel of the universe and is burnt by stars to create energy. Our Sun consumes some 600 million tonnes of hydrogen evry second in a process known as fusion energy.
Green hydrogen is hydrogen
produced by the electrolysis of water using renewable energy sources such as
geothermal, hydro, solar, biomass and wind. What difficulties would New Zealand
need to overcome in realising this opportunity? Apart from the need to create
the conditions in which industry can produce, transport and store the green
hydrogen in sufficient quantities to service an export industry, the principal
difficulty is in the nature of hydrogen itself. Although it is by far the most
abundant element in the universe, it is highly reactive in its natural state. Because
of its reactivity, it is invariably found in combination with other elements in
the form of water, hydrocarbons, carbohydrates and other organic matter.
Hydrogen is a uniquely difficult and
expensive commodity to ship, whether by pipeline, or as a cryogenic liquid, or
as a pressurised gas. On a weight for weight basis, hydrogen has three times
the energy content of gasoline. But on a volume basis the ratios are reversed. To
use hydrogen as an energy carrier it needs to be pressurised or liquified. To
liquify hydrogen requires cooling it to minus 253 degrees centigrade. This
cooling process typically takes 30-40% of the energy content of the hydrogen.
And maintaining that temperature during shipment requires highly specialised
engineering techniques based on the construction of massive double walled
vacuum vessels, not unlike a giant thermos flask. Kawasaki Heavy Industries of
Japan, who are industry leaders in the construction of such industrial scale vacuum
flasks, are building their first pilot scale ship now. If successful, they plan
to scale up to a fleet of bulk carriers of liquid hydrogen within the next year
or two. This will enable the large scale export and import of liquid hydrogen.
Hydrogen is difficult to handle
for other reasons. Because it has a very light molecular weight, it diffuses
rapidly. It embrittles ordinary steel, requiring special coating and valve
techniques. It has a broad flammability range relative to hydrocarbons. It is
colourless, tasteless and odourless and it burns with an invisible flame (those
dramatic black and white newsreel pictures of the LZ129 Hindenburg dirigible on
fire in 1937 notwithstanding). These characteristics of hydrogen gas require
special safety and handling considerations which also add to the cost and
But the great virtue of hydrogen
as an energy carrier is that it burns without producing greenhouse gases. Water
and heat, or electrical energy when combusted in a fuel cell, are the only by-products
of recombining hydrogen with atmospheric oxygen, making green hydrogen the leading
‘fuel of the future’.
In addition to having the ability
to scale up its renewable energy production, New Zealand has other advantages
in the field of green hydrogen technology and export. We have good government
to government relationships with Japan and Korea, both of which countries have
established detailed roadmaps under which they plan to incorporate hydrogen as
a major fuel in their economies. In October 2018, Hon Megan Woods signed a
Memorandum of Cooperation with her Japanese counterpart, Hon Hiroshige Seko,
Japan’s Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry to collaborate in the
development of our hydrogen economies. The Tokyo Summer Olympics in 2020 will
be a major showcase for hydrogen as the principal energy source for the games.
In New Zealand, several firms are
already working with central and local government to develop pilot projects. Ports
of Auckland are working with project partners Auckland Council, Kiwi Rail and
Auckland Transport to build a hydrogen production and refuelling facility for a
range of fuel cell vehicles.
In Taranaki, Ballance
Agri-Nutrients has a $50 million partnership with Hiringa Energy to develop 16
MW of wind energy at its Kapuni site which it will use to produce green
hydrogen as a feedstock into its ammonia -urea plant and for possible use as
zero-emission trucking fuel.
This is a key element in a
Taranaki Hydrogen Road Map produced in partnership between Hiringa Energy, the
New Plymouth District Council and Venture Taranaki, assisted by the Provincial
Growth Fund. A link to the road map is at https://about.taranaki.info/Taranaki2050/Work-Group-Files/H2-Taranaki-Roadmap.pdf.
The road map is intended to act as a guide to the development of Taranaki’s
hydrogen economy. It is a product of the Tapuae Roa Taranaki Economic
In Taupo, the Tuaropaki Trust has entered into a partnership with Japan’s Obayashi Corporation to build a pilot hydrogen production plant using geothermal energy from its Mokai field, 28 km NW of Taupo. The 1.5 MW plant will be completed in 2020 and will be used to explore the viability of hydrogen production in New Zealand and the development of domestic and international markets.
These are all important first
steps towards a New Zealand hydrogen economy. Once the technical, economic and
regulatory issues around the production, distribution and storage of green
hydrogen have been resolved, and sufficient renewable energy has been
developed, the way will be open to use hydrogen as a clean heat source in
industry and as a transport fuel. This will open the way to carbon zero heat
processing in industries such as steel and cement making, pulp and paper, milk
powder and other large industrial consumers.
Seen in this way, a national New
Zealand strategy for hydrogen is an absolutely key component in the
government’s commitment to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Reaching
the 2035 goal for 100% renewable electricity generation is also an important
step along the way to a hydrogen economy. But to support an export industry for
hydrogen will of course require New Zealand to put in place the policies needed
to result in an excess of renewable electricity generation over and above
domestic requirements that can be used for the generation of green hydrogen
This represents one of the most
challenging tasks ahead for Dr Megan Woods and the government.
New Zealand Hydrogen
This Association was established in September 2018 with seed funding from MBIE to support the progression and uptake of low emission hydrogen in New Zealand. Its website is at https://www.nzhydrogen.org/. The Association has broad support from a wide array of both private and public sector organisations.
Maritime safety and security issues associated with
shipping liquid hydrogen by sea
The development of
regulations covering the safe shipment of liquid hydrogen by bulk carriers is under
discussion in the International Maritime Organisation. Bulk gas cargoes are
carried under the International Code for the Construction and Equipment of Ships
Carrying Liquefied Gases in Bulk (IGC Code). This is a mandatory code under the
Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) convention.
The IGC code does
not currently allow for the transportation of liquid hydrogen. But Australia has
been working with Japan to develop interim carriage requirements for the
transportation of liquid hydrogen in bulk from Australia to Japan. And as part
of a pilot project scheduled to commence in 2020, ship containment systems are
being developed in Japan that will be capable of safely transporting liquid
hydrogen in bulk from Australia to Japan (and, by extension, from New Zealand
The interim carriage
requirements specify the construction standards of containment vessels for
liquid hydrogen carriers. These are intended to mitigate the safety risks
associated with transporting liquid hydrogen by sea. Kawasaki Heavy Industries
(KHI) of Japan has been active in helping to develop these standards.
The interim carriage
requirements are a critical milestone in the Hydrogen Energy Supply Chain
Project that has been developed by the Victoria State Government to transform
the energy locked up in its world scale brown coal reserves in the Latrobe
Valley into liquid hydrogen for transport to Japan.
Safety at sea for a pilot scale
shipment in 2020 is one thing. The security issues associated with the
potential development of new high density energy sea lanes carrying liquified
hydrogen bulk tankers from Australia and New Zealand to power the massive
economies of Japan, Korea and China are quite another. While this potential sea
borne trade may take a decade or more to develop, it is a security factor that
needs to be in the mind of defence planners and strategic thinkers in Canberra,
Wellington, Tokyo, Seoul and Beijing.
Could open oceans aquaculture, at some point in the future, be as prominent in food production as Zealand land-based agriculture?
Some of the answers to these questions were addressed at a Symposium, ‘Unlocking the Potential of Our Oceans’ held by the Cawthron Institute in Nelson 5-7 August 2019. The programme featured the following headline:
Open ocean aquaculture is New Zealand’s newest and most challenging frontier. We’re lifting the lid on how to meet this challenge through state-of-the-art environmentally sustainable technologies and world-class science.’
‘Norwegian Dr Hans Bjelland, Director of the Centre for Exposed Aquaculture operations in Norway, spoke about recent developments, including a salmon farm with the hull characteristics of a very large ship. Each of these vessels would be capable of producing 10,000 tonnes of fish at a time. The structure itself could be turned to face turbulent waves and wind to help ride out the weather. These ideas require further research for New Zealand conditions. The link is at:
The Havfarm concept has been heralded as a potential
game changer for Norway’s salmon fishing industry. This image courtesy of NSK
Ship Design / Nordlaks.
Other contrivances for both
shellfish and finfish that can be lowered or raised to protect against inclement
weather illustrate the opportunity to overcome some of the physical challenges
presented by the oceans. Already there
are open ocean aquaculture installations in place in New Zealand and producing
quality food to add to existing inshore output.
In the Bay of Plenty offshore from Opotiki and in Pegasus Bay north of
Christchurch two mussel farms are gradually increasing output and have plans
for further expansion. The farm near
Opotiki illustrates the beneficial economic impact that open ocean aquaculture
creates for local communities and particularly for local Iwi who have invested
in this facility.
To support the venture, planning to
develop and to build a new port to service the farm is well advanced. The new docks will house facilities for
comprehensive management of the entire operation from platform operations, spat
capture, harvesting, processing, packaging, distribution as well as ancillary
services including ship maintenance, riggers, information technology operators
and the like. Clearly there will be
significant employment opportunities.
Open ocean aquaculture is a sophisticated operation requiring input from government agencies, a broad range of academic disciplines, practical engineering and diverse knowhow. It is early days but the potential for open ocean or exposed water aquaculture operations in New Zealand is clear and the rewards could be significant. The Foundation congratulates the Cawthron Institute for taking the lead in this way.
Legendary ocean researcher Sylvia Earle shares astonishing images of the ocean — and shocking statistics about its rapid decline — as she makes her TED Prize wish: that we will join her in protecting the vital blue heart of the planet.
American, Earle has led more than 50 expeditions and clocked more than 7,000 hours underwater. As captain of the first all-female team to live underwater in 1970, she and her fellow scientists received a ticker-tape parade and White House reception upon their return to the surface. In 1979, she walked untethered on the sea floor at a lower depth than any other woman before or since. In the 1980s, she started the companies Deep Ocean Engineering and Deep Ocean Technologies with engineer Graham Hawkes to design undersea vehicles that allow scientists to work at previously inaccessible depths. In the early 1990s, she served as Chief Scientist of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.