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BY TONY KRYZANOWSKI
Madsen’s Custom Cabinets, a custom architectural millwork business that has supplied its products to such projects as the Royal Alberta Museum and Manulife Place in Edmonton is showing how wood waste can be used as an alternative to fossil fuels to heat buildings at considerable savings.
The company estimates that by installing a wood waste heating system, it saves about $80,000 per year in natural gas costs and $57,000 per year in waste disposal costs, for a total savings of almost $140,000 per year. The system has been in place for 12 years, meaning that the company has saved at least $1.5 million in heating and waste disposal costs over that time.
“Before we installed the system, we were shipping 60 cubic yards of wood waste to the landfill per week,” says the company’s majority owner, Kent Madsen. “After we installed it, we got that down to six cubic yards.”
Their wood waste-fueled boiler heats their entire 40,000 square foot office and manufacturing facility in Edmonton, generating about two million BTUs per hour.
The key to their success is that they have a ready and consistent supply of wood waste available to them, given the architectural millwork that they do. They say that having an in-house or nearby source of waste wood is critical for any business interested in following their example.
“Madsen’s has shown the potential of using wood waste as fuel to generate heat instead of the costly option of sending it to the landfill,” says Toso Bozic, Bioenergy and Forestry Specialist with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry. “There have been many advances in complete wood waste systems, and we can help businesses connect with potential suppliers.”
Madsen admits that he was skeptical and had little interest when the concept of converting from natural gas-fuelled boiler heat to wood waste heat was first discussed. But when the financial benefits became obvious, he took notice and a lead role in the project, along with plant manager, Allan Trachuk. Their system is anchored by a Fink Machine Inc. wood waste-fired boiler. The company is headquartered in Enderby, B.C., and provided considerable hands-on engineering and system design advice.
While the system has proven its worth, it has been improved over the years, like the investment in a Weima wood waste briquette press system. It takes the sawdust and processed wood waste accumulated in the business every day through their dust collection system and compresses it into manageable, cylindrical briquettes, creating a more consistent and manageable wood fuel product. This gives the business the ability to combine material from a variety of internal sources. These wood waste briquettes are then transported using an ingenious pressure tubing system into a large storage bin typically used to store grain. From there, a conveyance system at the bottom of the storage bin supplied by Fink Machine feeds the briquettes continuously into the wood waste heat boiler. The company has a back-up natural gas heating system primarily for when maintenance is required, and as a safety net.
Madsen estimates that a total system at today’s prices would cost about $500,000, with payback starting the minute it is turned on.
Trachuk says that there is no doubt that Madsen’s was a working laboratory for putting all the pieces into place for the system that exists today, but companies like Fink Machine have been great to work with, to tweak the system as needed. He adds that it takes complete buy-in from company staff to ensure that the wood waste is processed properly and that it takes an internal champion with a strong interest in keeping tabs on the system for it to become a business success. It does require regular monitoring and some maintenance every couple of weeks, such as removal of about a household garbage can of ash from the boiler.
For more information or to organize a tour of the Madsen’s Custom Cabinets wood waste energy heating system, contact Kent Madsen at firstname.lastname@example.org, and for more information about wood waste energy systems and suppliers, contact Alberta Agriculture and Forestry bio-energy specialist, Toso Bozic at email@example.com.
BY TONY KRYZANOWSKI
Wood residue can be converted to renewable natural gas (RNG), and demand is growing world-wide to blend RNG with conventional natural gas to reduce this fuel’s carbon footprint. The challenge has been to discover a less expensive conversion method.
ATCO will host the construction of a $2.15 million demonstration project in Edmonton that will showcase cutting-edge technology capable of producing RNG from all manner of wood residue at significantly lower cost and with fewer processing steps, and injecting the quality fuel into ATCO’s natural gas distribution system.
The demonstration project will feature a patented, thermo-chemical process developed by G4 Insights Inc., a company based in Burnaby, B.C. Edson Ng, company co-founder and mechanical engineer, says the G4 conversion method is considerably less expensive.
“We believe our cost for producing RNG could be one-third to one-half the cost versus other thermo-chemical processes,” he says. “Also, the quality of the gas we produce will meet the utility gas requirement.”
This technology provides a new outlet for wood residue. G4’s conversion method can use residue generated by sawmills, slash piles generated by logging, or residue produced from forest thinning, Ng says. His company settled on wood residue as the feedstock of choice because of its abundance.
Alberta Innovates (AI) has committed $230,000 cash and in-kind from its Alberta Bio Future (ABF) program, toward a provincial-federal-industry funding consortium helping G4 Insights build its demonstration plant in Edmonton. The project is also financially supported by Natural Resources Canada; the Natural Gas Innovation Fund™; Canadian Gas Association
members Enbridge Gas Distribution, FortisBC, Gaz Metro, Union Gas; utility host ATCO; and FPInnovations—who are contributing a combined $1.92 million in funding and in-kind services.
The ABF program is targeted at accelerating growth of the province’s bioindustrial sector, and adding value to forestry and agriculture biomass through development of new and/or improved bioproducts or technologies.
“Alberta Innovates, and its applied research subsidiary InnoTech Alberta, are very pleased to support G4’s technology demonstration to make renewable natural gas using Alberta biomass, and test the injection of this quality fuel into the distribution line,” says Steve Price, Executive Director, Bioindustrial Innovation, at Alberta Innovates. “We recognize this as an important step in providing options to ‘green’ Alberta’s energy grid.”
Ng says Alberta Innovates’ support for the project will help G4 Insights expand and fine-tune its base equipment set-up, allow for longer operation through continuous feeding of the wood residue to produce RNG, and help the company validate equipment that monitors the quality of its RNG and injection of the gas into commercial gas distribution systems.
The Canadian Gas Association has set a goal to have five per cent RNG-blended natural gas in their lines by 2025 and 10 per cent by 2030, resulting in a 14-million megatonne reduction of GHG emissions by 2030, or the equivalent of removing three million passenger cars from the road.
“G4 fills a technology development gap in our sector and will enable a solution for emerging challenges facing Canada’s energy system,” says John Adams, Managing Director, Natural Gas Innovation Fund™.
ATCO, a major provider of natural gas distribution services in Alberta with over 1.1 million customers, is highly supportive of G4’s demonstration of its ability to convert wood residue to RNG.
“ATCO is excited to host and sponsor G4 in Edmonton,” says Dean Reeve, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Gas Distribution. “RNG is a largely untapped renewable resource that Canadians can use to heat and power their homes and businesses using a carbon-neutral fuel.”
Ng says G4 Insights has spent eight years developing its conversion technology. “Our process is quite unique,” he says. It starts with using a hammer mill to reduce wood residue to particle size. It is then conveyed into the company’s thermo-chemical system where the residue is rapidly heated to between 400 and 600 degrees Celsius. This vaporizes the wood into a “pyrolysis gas” which is transported across a catalyst where it combines with hydrogen and becomes predominantly methane gas, which can be purified into distribution-grade RNG.
While the plant will consume about 100 kilograms of wood residue per day, G4 Insights calculates that a large, commercial-scale RNG production facility based on their technology would consume about 750 dry tonnes of wood residue daily to produce 10,000 gigajoules of RNG per day, which is about the amount of gas required to support 45,000 average Canadian homes.
BY TONY KRYZANOWSKI
Afforestation, or the practice of establishing a forest where there was no previous tree cover, will factor into future adaptation and mitigation strategies related to the impact of climate change on Canadian forest inventories and vulnerable landscapes.
The Canadian Wood Fibre Centre (CWFC) has established, proven, and demonstrated a number of afforestation strategies and systems involving fast-growing crops like clonal hybrid hardwoods that can be implemented to both adapt and mitigate climate change impacts.
Derek Sidders, CWFC Program Manager, says that CWFC’s decades-old program to establish fast-growing clonal hybrid hardwood plantations across Canada has relied heavily on a number of partners. These have included universities, forest companies, forest nurseries, provincial governments, and federal departments. This partnership has also included a number of private landowners such as landowners interested in diversifying their land management values by complimenting their conventional cropping practices with fast-growing tree plantations and those interested in mitigating the negative impacts of past land management practices as well as non-forestry resource extraction activities, using fast-growing trees to rehabilitate those impacts.
“The outcome is that we have established a national network of technical development sites that present suitable management systems, creating an information system that has validated the growth response of various species of willow, poplar and aspen, optimum management and practices costs, and the value opportunities that they can garnish in various locations,” says Sidders. The primary technical development sites are located in Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario.
What CWFC can provide to a variety of stakeholders faced with addressing climate change impacts are proven systems and a game plan involving high-yield afforestation based on refined systems customized for Canada. These are large stemmed trees simulating a natural forest, but growing eight to ten times faster than natural native rates, as well as species that deliver high fibre volumes that can provide feedstock for such commercial use as bio-energy, while also providing carbon sequestration benefits.
From the adaptation perspective, CWFC has gathered a considerable amount of data through its research program related to site suitability classification for various fast-growing species all across Canada. This data assesses growth potential based on moisture, temperature and soil conditions, while also taking into account species and clonal hardiness.
“We can specifically design plantations for locations that have desired final fibre needs,” says Sidders. “As we progress into the future with increased demand for nanotechnologies, bio-plastics, as well as all the different biofuels, these fast growing tree plantations have opportunities for location and expansion in close proximity to urban centres where they can be established over a very short time frame and offer diverse values.”
A well adapted fast-growing tree plantation can also help with protecting land bases that are already exhibiting climate change impacts. In addition to absorbing carbon dioxide, they are a longer term cover crop that can assist with moisture management in intensively managed areas, and they have also proven successful in use by municipalities in waste water treatment.
The natural forest fringe is among the most vulnerable areas prone to climate change impacts. CWFC has addressed how its fast-growing afforestation systems could assist with maintaining and enhancing this habitat.
“There seems to be an opportunity to investigate establishing mixedwoods, by taking advantage of tolerant softwoods in the understoreys with fast-growing hardwoods in the overstoreys,” says Sidders. “This gives us diversity in species, habitat, and fibre values. These options can incorporate a fast-growing tree species or be designed in combination with native tolerant softwoods.”
From a mitigation perspective, establishing a high-yield afforestation plantation sequesters carbon and reduces emissions by taking carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and transferring it into wood fibre. The trees will absorb as much as 25 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent on average per hectare per year over the lifespan of the plantation, which Sidders says is a significant opportunity when considering land availability along Canada’s long span of forest-agriculture fringe.
In addition to high-yield afforestation, CWFC has also created specific designs for very short rotation crops, only three years in some cases, in what it calls its concentrated biomass plantations using willow and hybrid poplar.
“The intent here is to coppice-manage multiple crops off of one root system over three or four year rotations, with as many as six recovery opportunities,” says Sidders. “Under this scenario, there is no question that we are sequestering carbon, but we are looking at fossil fuel offsets, where the benefit is a sustainable replacement of liquids, gases or solids for energy, heat, and power currently derived from fossil fuels.”
For more information about how CWFC’s afforestation strategies can help with adaptation and mitigation where climate change impacts are an issue or a concern, contact Derek Sidders at Derek.firstname.lastname@example.org.