It goes back almost 40 years when a young Kiwi business entrepreneur started offering his new seaweed-based liquid fertiliser to Franklin crop growers and farmers.
Kevin Smith was selling it from the boot of his car. He rapidly built a loyal customer base because of the results obtained from his “Response” fertiliser. He struck on the idea of creating the fertiliser when he witnessed the residue “going down the drain” from an Opotiki factory which boiled seaweed to extract biological agar gel for science labs.
“The liquid waste was rich in nutrients so I thought it could be popular with all kinds of land use,” said Kevin. And it was.
Within two years, he was exporting “Response” thanks to the strong evidence shown on Franklin properties.
His most promising market was Brazil. The connections he made eventually saw him sell his fertiliser interests to a New Zealand company and by 1986 he was living in Brazil - soon to become a joint Kiwi/Brazilian citizen and speaking fluent Portuguese.
He became domiciled for the next 32 years, in Sao Paulo, a city of 25 million, where he served as a CEO and director of several large companies.
Last year, he returned to New Zealand with several innovative business opportunities from across the South American continent. Among them was his discovery of a rapid rail technology little known in the world so far, but on a steep trajectory of growing interest world-wide.
“Kiwis who don’t know much about the South American continent tend to think it is mostly third world economically,” said Kevin.
“But a city like Sao Paulo is a huge manufacturing centre. There are more people in that one city than the population of New Zealand, who lead very comfortable upper middle-class lives. They are tertiary educated, globally focused and doing business all over the planet.”
Kevin said he also fitted in well with Brazilian culture.
“There is a great deal of emphasis on relationships and openness in business,” said Kevin.
Among connections he made - also as a Rotarian with a 44-year history- was with the directors of “Aerom” a family company which had developed and built a small number of public rapid rail links since 1988, in Asia and South America.
Kevin was aware of growing interest in rapid rail in various parts of New Zealand but especially Auckland.
“I was also alarmed by the size of the budgets being discussed.
“For example, a rapid rail service between central Auckland and the Airport has been speculated at between $NZ2 billion and $6 billion.
“I discussed this with Aerom’s head office and they advised me to budget $NZ38 million per kilometre with Aerom technology. That’s well short of $1 billion and it includes passenger stations for each of the 26 kilometres.”
A contract to represent Aerom in New Zealand was a logical next step so that’s what Kevin negotiated.
Kevin said the key points about Aerom are:
• The first kilometre of track takes about six months to build and every kilometre after that takes just one month. The completed sections of track can also be put into immediate service without having to wait for the entire line to be built.
• The power is by emission-free electric motors which produce pneumatic pressure in a cavity under the rail, where it hits a steel “sail” and pushes the carriage along the track.
• Because of the pneumatic pressure, carriages cannot collide into each other. Air pressure increases as carriages get closer to each other until they are forced to stop completely from their 80km top speed.
• When the tracks are mounted above ground, a footprint of less than one metre width is required, potentially removing the need to purchase land and enabling the route to fit easily among existing urban structures, as well as providing a path for bicycles and pedestrians
• The system is fully automated and very low in noise disturbance.
• 25,000 passengers per hour capacity.
“I can already see a system running from Pukekohe into the city and South to Hamilton” said Kevin.
He said the intensive development plans between Drury and Pukekohe will demand efficient “and clean” public transport. Aeromovel will be a serious option.
Kevin’s Auckland-based company, The Board Ltd, is also in discussion with northern hemisphere financiers as well as local engineering, urban planning and construction companies, to establish part of a consortium to tender for New Zealand projects.
“The much lower cost of the Aerom technology means that passengers fares can be kept down and still provide an adequate return on the capital cost of a system” said Kevin. “This means that central Government and Councils throughout the country, can plan within realistic financial limits. They don’t have to entertain the idea of public subsidising of public transport.