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THE EDGE

BioCleantech ForumBioCleantech Forum shines national spotlight on huge biomass conversion potential

BY TONY KRYZANOWSKI

Canada has more biomass per capita than any other country on the planet.

And there is great potential to convert that biomass into sustainable, biomass-based products that can substitute for fossil fuel-based products in heating, power generation and transportation, while contributing to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction.

The recent BioCleantech Forum held in Ottawa—hosted by BioFuelNet in partnership with Alberta Innovates (formerly Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions) and Emissions Reduction Alberta (formerly the Climate Change and Emissions Management (CCEMC) Corporation)—provided a national stage to explore how biomass conversion could play an important role to help Canada achieve its GHG reduction targets, as well as spur economic growth.

Bio cleantech is the sustainable use of forestry, agriculture, and municipal biomass resources for energy, fuels, and products that build upon Canada’s economic and human resource strengths, while addressing the country’s global commitments to tackle climate change.

Dr. Susan Wood-Bohm is Executive Director of the Biological Greenhouse Gas Management Program, which is a partnership between Alberta Innovates and Emissions Reduction Alberta (ERA). She played a lead role in organizing this inaugural BioCleantech Forum.

Dr. Wood-Bohm says that Alberta Innovates and ERA were eager to co-sponsor the BioCleantech Forum because their priorities include supporting technological development aimed at GHG reduction, while spurring innovation.

The three-day BioCleantech Forum featured more than100 speakers and moderators from industry, government, NGOs, and academia. Many participants represented large emitters who are seeking GHG-reduction solutions. Overall, the goal was to better inform all stakeholders involved in the GHG-reduction discussion about the many opportunities offered by biomass conversion. Organizations like Alberta Innovates, ERA and BioFuelNet want to ensure that biological solutions are part of the overall discussion on the role of renewables in achieving GHG reductions.

“We’ve heard a lot about opportunities with wind and solar,” says Wood-Bohm. “They are great renewables and we need them, for sure. But there are some situations, like producing process heat, where biomass makes better sense.”

According to a report entitled, “Biomass Innovation: Canada’s Leading Cleantech Opportunity for Greenhouse Gas Reduction and Economic Prosperity,” domestic biomass wastes alone could provide 20 per cent of Canada’s yearly energy supply. It was the overwhelming response to this report, co-authored by Dr. Wood-Bohm and Dr. Jamie Stephen of Torchlight BioResources, that sparked the idea for the BioCleantech Forum.

The BioCleantech Forum attracted strong forest industry support and participation. Joerg Goetsch, General Manager of Corporate Affairs at pulp producer Daishowa-Marubeni International (DMI) shared information on why partnerships—particularly on feedstock supply—are so essential to bio cleantech project success and risk management. Investors should understand that in terms of the feedstock, forest companies bring tremendous value to the table because of their extensive knowledge related to feedstock procurement and transportation logistics.

“When you start playing in the wrong sandbox, meaning when you start getting out of your area of expertise, I tend to see more failures in the marketplace than wins,” says Goetsch. “I think that is the value of partnering with the forest industry, not only from a feedstock supply aspect, but also gathering, processing and transporting the feedstock. It’s a skill that we have and it is something that the forest industry can leverage.”

One example of how bio cleantech could play an important role in reducing the carbon footprint of oil-sands bitumen upgrading into synthetic crude oil was presented by Dr. Amit Kumar, University of Alberta professor and Associate Industrial Research Chair in Energy and Environmental Systems Engineering. Today, about 95 per cent of the hydrogen used to upgrade bitumen comes from natural gas. However, technology has been developed to manufacture hydrogen from biomass, which could be used as a substitute for hydrogen derived from natural gas.

“When we talk about reducing the GHG footprint from the fossil fuel industry, hydrogen is a big component,” says Dr. Kumar. “Our research fits in well in helping to de-carbonize or reduce the GHG footprint of the fossil fuel industry, by substituting hydrogen from renewal sources for fossil-fuel-based hydrogen.”

University of Alberta researchers gasified woody biomass to produce syngas, which was then used to produce hydrogen. The cost of producing hydrogen from biomass was still considerably more than from natural gas at its current price. The difference was between $3.00 to $4.00 per gigajoule for hydrogen derived from biomass versus about $1.00 per gigajoule from natural gas.

“But if you are looking at a world where you are trying to reduce GHG’s, these are attractive options,” says Dr. Kumar.

For more information about the BioCleantech Forum, contact Dr. Susan Wood-Bohm at Susan.Wood-Bohm @albertainnovates.ca or Julia Necheff at julia.necheff@albertainnovates.ca.


CWFCCWFC demonstrates harvest methods at North America's largest, contiguous willow plantation

BY TONY KRYZANOWSKI

Over the past decade, Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Wood Fibre Centre (CWFC), has laid the groundwork through its research and development program for the establishment of North America’s largest, contiguous, commercial willow plantation located in southern Alberta.

Just a few days after Thanksgiving, the partners involved in this project hosted a tour and demonstration of potential harvest methods on the momentous occasion of the site’s first commercial harvest.

The Anderson Biobaler (top photo) represents technology developed in Canada for harvesting short rotation wood crops. Almost like harvesting grain, the Claas wood header v1.0 attached to the 800 Claas Jaguar harvester (bottom photo) creates bulk biomass from short rotation willows.

CWFC was able to organize three commercial harvest demonstrations. The first involved a tractor pulling the Canadian-developed, Anderson Biobaler WB-55, which produces a biomass bale similar in appearance to a straw bale. The second was the Claas wood header v1.0 attached to a self-propelled 800 Claas Jaguar harvester. This method produces bulk biomass blown into a bin pulled by a tractor travelling adjacent to the harvester. The third was the Ny Vraa - JF 192 willow harvester, which also produces bulk biomass. In this case, both the harvester and bin are pulled by a single tractor.

The willow plantation is located on 498 hectares on agricultural land leased from the Mountain View Hutterite Colony east of Calgary. A total of 6.9 million willow cuttings of various genetic types have been planted on the site, and after only three years, the first crop was ready for harvest.

The Alberta Rural Organic Waste to Resources Network (AROWRN), of which CWFC and the site partners are members, recognized the site’s first commercial harvest as a unique opportunity to host a Willow Harvesting Field Day. Participants gathered from throughout Alberta to learn how the project came about and what has been achieved to date.

The City of Calgary is a key participant in the Mountain View project, supplying about 25 percent of its biosolid waste in dry form as the organic fertilizer catalyst feeding the willow. The biomass harvested at this site will eventually be used by the City in its composting program. In addition to demonstrating a large-scale, Short Rotation Woody Crop (SRWC) willow plantation, the site also demonstrates safe, successful, and cheaper treatment of municipal biosolids, an opportunity for carbon sequestration, as well as the potential to improve the agriculture productivity of marginal soils.

As a demonstration site, the Mountain View willow plantation serves multiple purposes. For CWFC, it represents the commercial uptake of its research.

The site’s first harvest was particularly gratifying to Richard Krygier, Intensive Fibre Management Specialist with CWFC, and Martin Blank, Wood Fibre Production Technologist, who have been working for the past decade in the specialized area of how short rotation woody crops can be used successfully as part of an overall biosolids treatment method for smaller communities.

On smaller SRWC plantation projects established by the CWFC in Whitecourt and Camrose County at Ohaton, where local municipalities have worked with CWFC to apply treated municipal sewage wastewater to short rotation willows or aspen, Krygier says that, “we’ve shown that we can treat wastewater at a cost of 20 to 30 per cent of building another treatment cell. I think this is a viable alternative for smaller communities.” In Alberta, this would typically be communities populated in the range of about 500 people, which explains the Hutterite Colony’s interest in the Mountain View demonstration project.

The Camrose County Ohaton demonstration site also showed that a short rotation woody crop works effectively to rehabilitate Solonetzic soil types over time, and as a further benefit, the woody biomass harvested from that site is used by the County as biofuel to heat its buildings.

On the Whitecourt site, application of the wastewater increased biomass yield by as much as 20 to 30 percent. A similar response was achieved on the Mountain View plantation site with some willow clones.

CWFC is now taking what it has learned from its municipal biosolids treatment and Solonetzic soil rehabilitation research using short rotation woody crops, and sharing it with those involved in oil sands mining site reclamation.

For more information about the Mountain View SRWC demonstration site, contact Mark Teshima at mteshima@sylvis.com. For general information on SRWC contact Richard Krygier at richard.krygier@canada.ca, Martin Blank at martin.blank@canada.ca, or Derek Sidders at derek.sidders@canada.ca.