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Tapping directly into geothermal heat

GNS Science is a key player in a sector-wide initiative to increase the use of geothermal direct heat in New Zealand.

Scientist sampling geothermal steam. Photo: Manoj Kalathara

An increasing number of businesses are using direct geothermal heat. Photo: Manoj Kalathara


“GNS Science has played an integral role in growing the momentum around direct geothermal use activity in New Zealand. Their support for the work the Bay of Connections has undertaken in this area is leading to significant economic development outcomes for the region.”

Andrea Blair, Geothermal Business Development Lead, Bay of Connections


One of the aims of this initiative is to reduce the reliance on fossil fuels, particularly in industrial settings, and make the country’s energy use greener and more sustainable. 

At present, New Zealand uses about 9 Peta Joules (PJ) of energy a year from direct heat from geothermal resources. Our aim is to increase this by more than 30% by 2030. 

Direct geothermal heat is used very successfully in timber drying, commercialscale glasshouses, milk processing, tissue and paper manufacturing, aquaculture, honey processing and bathing. There is considerable scope for further uptake. 

In partnership with the New Zealand Geothermal Association, we developed a Geoheat Strategy that sets out steps to build steadily towards an additional 7.5 PJ in primary geothermal energy use. As well as increasing the amount of geothermal used by industry, the initiative is seeking to create about 500 new jobs in regional New Zealand. 

We are working closely with the Bay of Plenty Regional Council’s economic development agency, Bay of Connections, and their geothermal business development lead to encourage uptake of direct geothermal use. The focus is on the higher temperature central North Island geothermal resources. While the emphasis is currently on promoting commercial and industrial use, there is also potential for growth in domestic use. 

Our involvement has helped to socialise the initiative and we provide leadership, organisational and technical assistance where needed.

Two new enterprises have recently joined the list of those benefitting from direct geothermal use. The first is craft brewing operation Rogue Bore Brewery, which is scheduled to start production in early 2020. Based in the heart of the Wairakei geothermal steamfield just north of Taupō, it will produce beer that is brewed and carbonated using 100% geothermal energy. 

The second is Geo40, the first company in New Zealand to successfully extract silica from geothermal fluids in a commercial demonstration plant. Silica produced from Geo40’s plant at Contact Energy’s Ohaaki facility is being sold for use in consumer goods such as tyres, paint, and building materials. This provides an environmentally sound source of silica that would otherwise need carbonintensive energy to produce. Geo40 recently received a Provincial Growth Fund loan of $15 million to assist in enlarging production seven-fold.