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Green Opportunities

Canada’s forest industry—with its forest “carbon sinks” and use of residual wood-generated energy—could have an important role to play with the Kyoto Protocol and efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

By Jim Stirling

While the forest industry is already using waste wood residues to a fairly high level, a number of proposed initiatives could take the process even further—and could have a positive impact on the amount of greenhouse gas emissions.

Canada’s stance on the Kyoto Protocol has far-reaching implications for the nation’s forests and forestland management. The spectre of climate change due to global warming has persuaded Canada to work toward cutting greenhouse gas emissions to six per cent below 1990 levels by the year 2012. The February 2003 federal budget reinforced Canada’s commitment to Kyoto, allocating $2 billion to be spent on the protocol between now and 2008. Specifics of the spending plan were not made available.

Industries like oil and gas and groups like the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters Association have warned pursuing the Kyoto strategy will cost hundreds of thousands of Canadian jobs, contribute to economic slowdown, reduce investment and increase consumer prices. Others dispute such dire predictions. But reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving wood fibre utilization have already become an established way of doing business for Canada’s forest industry. Wood residues produced during lumber production have stimulated creation of new products and new industries.

Types of panel products and heat-producing pellets are but two examples. Wood residues have also reduced the reliance on fossil fuels by becoming the feedstock for energy producing systems that can be used for a variety of p urposes, including heating sawmills and running dry kilns. Utilizing wood residues to fire large scale, co-generation electrical power plants is another method of turning waste disposal costs into a revenue producing stream. The largest co-generation proposal currently on the table in British Columbia is for an estimated $120-million plant, to be built at Houston.

The Pleasant Valley Power Project would utilize 305,000 tonnes of wood residues annually from two adjacent mills—and another in the region—to produce about 49 megawatts of power. The project is now being developed by Primary Power of Canada, which is based in Ontario and is a wholly owned subsidiary of an American company. Primary Power’s Canadian assets include three wood residue-fired power plants, two in Alberta and one in Ontario. BC’s Canfor Corporation is one of the forest companies slated to contribute wood residues to the Houston project. The company has also been aggressively pursuing another initiative: an assessment of the potential of bio-oil.

The greenhouse gas neutral fuel is created from brown and white wood residues like sawdust, shavings and bark. Canfor has been working with DynaMotive Energy Systems Corporation of Vancouver on bio-fuel research. Tests conducted in 2002 at Canfor’s now-closed Netherlands Division’s dry kilns in Prince George, BC indicated the stable, clean burning fuel possesses a high energy efficiency. The stakes are potentially high for Canfor. Bio-fuel could shave up to $10 million a year from the company’s heating bills. But first things first.

The next stage for Canfor is to select an industrial-scale test site—probably at one of its sawmills in central or northern BC—to confirm bio-oil’s reliability and cost effectiveness. Meanwhile, DynaMotive announced it is progressing with another bio-fuel proposal. The company has an option for 500,000 tonnes of wood residues from L & M Wood Products of Saskatchewan to process into bio-oil. One of the more fascinating relationships between the Kyoto Protocol and the forest landmass are carbon sinks.

Forests are involved in the process of carbon exchange. As trees grow, they absorb carbon from the atmosphere and store it in their tissues. As they decompose or burn, they release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The Kyoto Protocol recognizes trees and forests as carbon sinks, which countries can claim as credits.

The Canadian Forest Service (CFS) at its Northern Forestry Centre in Edmonton has been researching the carbon storage power of trees since 1989. The CFS estimates 14 billion tonnes of carbon are stored in Canada’s forests and trees. Five times as much is stored in forest soils. Canada’s peat deposits might corral 100 billion tonnes of carbon.

“Making sound forestry management decisions is therefore an essential part of addressing climate change,” says the CFS. “By improving forest productivity and reducing disturbance to forest soils, where a large amount of carbon is stored, the carbo sequestration within forest ecosystems may be increased. “Developing appropriate silviculture practices will depend on understanding the status of our forest carbon budget, how the budget has fluctuated in the past, what role forests can play in reducing Canada’s overall atmospheric carbon dioxide emissions and how the forest carbon cycle will be affected by climate change.”

Lignum Ltd figures the ability of trees to absorb carbon from the atmosphere represents a valuable, hidden asset in its aproach to sustainable forest management practices. The Vancouver-based company operates a sawmill complex in Williams Lake, BC. Lignum is investigating the feasibility of using the carbon accumulation in its forests as a marketable forest product.

And as a credit to sell to an industrial company looking to offset its greenhouse gas emissions. Greenhouse gas emission management is rapidly emerging as a growth industry. Canadian energy companies in BC, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Nova Scotia are showing increasing interest in carbon sequestration.

The federal government is also encouraging further research into the subject. Last summer, $7.9 million was dedicated to a three-year project that will see government and university scientists across the country examining the cycling and storage of carbon in forests and soils, and the relationship to climate change.

The notion of using carbon sinks as credits to meet Kyoto commitments might also factor into an overall effort to balance excessive emissions from other sectors in the national economy. And that possibility has the provinces concerned about federal influence in areas of their jurisdiction.

The issue encouraged BC Premier Gordon Campbell to write a stern letter recently to Prime Minister Jean Chretien registering his concerns. “It is estimated that our province alone could account for all of the forest sink credit allotted to Canada under the Kyoto Protocol,” wrote Campbell. “If the federal government is intent on using BC’s forests to reduce Canada’s overall burden, then credit must be provided to the province. Moreover, BC must retain its undiminished authority and jurisdiction over its forest resources.” Judging from this, management of carbon sinks could be well on its way to writing another contentious chapter in federal-provincial relations.

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