BFR – historical moment?

Figure 1: Return of the 2 side boosters after the Big F…. Rocket (BFR) test launch, Nov 2019


Space-X returned all 3 of the boosters used to launch the BFR back to earth.


Lessons in innovation from Space-X

Space-X plans to bring the price of rocket launches down 30% by reusing the first stage boosters. They fly back to their launch pad or land on a barge out at sea. NASA has stagnated for 30 years. Using expendable Russian rockets to send astronauts to the space station, the US space program has not been great. Could the BFR test mark a tipping point in the way they take advantage of technology and offer lessons for us?

Figure 2: June 2020, Stage 1 booster which launched the manned Dragon capsule to the Space Station returns for refurbishment.


In addition to Space-X, Elon Musk is the largest shareholder of Tesla, a car manufacturer, building Battery Electric Vehicles (BEV’s). As of 11 June 2020, Tesla is now the world’s largest car maker, in front of Toyota.


EV’s in NZ

New Zealand imports $4.9B worth of petrol products every year to feed its Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) fleet. How much milk powder do we need to export to cover this cost? How many tonnes of emissions will be spewed to atmosphere?

There are now 20,000 EV’s in the country, only 0.005% of the 3.8M (and growing) number of ICE vehicles.


Figure 3: Since September 2019, 834 Tesla Model 3’s have been delivered to New Zealanders.


There are plenty of renewable electricity generation plants consented, ready to be built in NZ to meet the demand should we transition all ICE vehicles to EV’s.


Figure 4: Wind Generation capacity awaiting demand to increase before construction.


Our capacity to increase renewable generation above 150% and so meet a market “exporting” renewable electricity is within reach.


High Aluminium Content in Tesla Vehicles

The same attitude to technical innovations that shifted rocket launches to a new era is being applied at Tesla. Model 3 Tesla’s have 70 components in the rear assembly. The newer Model Y will have 1 component as its rear assembly. Pressed out of aluminium this is one of many initiatives to reduce costs and make BEV’s more competitive than ICE vehicles.


Figure 5: How many aluminium ingots are required to cast this single piece Model Y rear end?


Tiwai Point exports aluminium ingots to other countries. Those countries benefit from the more profitable step of value adding by manufacturing them into specialist components.

Could a simple Tweet to Elon attract his attention to the high quality aluminium components capable of being manufactured hot, directly off the Tiwai pot lines? 

Wouldn’t that be good for Southland?

Increasingly customers are demanding products with sustainable inputs. Tesla prioritise using sustainable materials. The aluminium electric arc process using Manapouri Hydro electricity (no fossil fuels) is also a means of exporting NZ renewable electricity.


Figure 6: Export of frozen lamb carcasses to “home” market of UK in 1920’s


100 years ago NZ exported meat products as unprocessed carcasses. This missed opportunity of not adding value persists in our milk powder, aluminium and timber exports.


NZ exporting unprocessed timber

What will it take for kiwis to build manufacturing plants to add value to the piles of raw logs presently cluttering our ports?


Figure 7: Unprocessed logs awaiting export from Gisborne.



Figure 8: NZ ports exporting unprocessed logs.


These processing plants will be high (renewable) electricity users.


Eastern Bay of Plenty (EBOP) exporting renewable energy

The Kawerau area has numerous Hydro and Geothermal Plants generating renewable Electricity, transmitted to other parts of NZ. There is capacity at the Kawerau bore field to increase geothermal electricity production. 


Whakatane has a reputation for having the highest sunshine hours in NZ. There is potential to add solar farms to the electricity mix.  A proposal to install a solar photovoltaic (PV) farm on spare land next to Whakatane Airport is awaiting Whakatane District Council support.


The Whakatane Board Mill is over 80 years old. It has been adding value to local pine forests manufacturing cardboard, destined for the packaging market. A market boosted by the purchase of products over the Internet, delivered around the world in cardboard boxes. Unfortunately, it is set to close June 2021. Here is a link to an enlightening Radio NZ interview with David Turner.


Oji Fibre Solutions, the old Tasman Pulp Mill at Kawerau is also experiencing a rejuvenation making the wood pulp, also destined for Internet packaging. Unfortunately, in this case the pulp is dried and exported as a commodity in bales rather than being further processed into sheet then formed into the higher value cardboard boxes.


Two value adding opportunities not being exploited by EBOP – the manufacture of a higher value-added forest product and providing a means of exporting surplus renewable energy.


Disruption of the “resistance to change”

COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter protests have presented us with extraordinary disruptions to the way we think and behave toward pandemics and social issues. These are huge step changes – historical moments? Politicians around the world are having to review the status quo.

The NZ response addressing environmental (climate change) and the economy have been suffering “resistance to change” syndrome. We have politicians touting the mantra “jobs, jobs, jobs” and yet the solutions have been staring us in the face for decades. Is it time to leverage the disruptions swirling around us and think differently, then take the next step up?


Your feedback on why EBOP is not a major sustainable industrial hub would be interesting. Thanks for reading this far!


This Post Has 2 Comments


    Perhaps Norske Skog would consider adding to or converting its last newsprint machine at Kawerau to a high quality card board sheet? Pacific Cartons make custom boxes for the food industry (pizza, cake). Hope their raw materials are sourced in NZ and not imported! Would this plant be better located in Kawerau benefiting from cheap renewable electricity, instead of being a part of the Auckland congestion nightmare?