Wood-based bioenergy getting a boost in small communities in B.C., the Yukon

By Jim Stirling

Sometimes it just makes sense to look at things backwards.

When the ultimate objective is to re-establish a forest economy with a community sawmill at its heart, it’s prudent first to find out what can profitably be done with the 60 per cent of the available wood basket that won’t make sawlog grade lumber.

Members of the Teslin Tlingit Council learned that while on a forestry fact finding trip to Finland. And that is why the first phase of work on a wood-fired bioenergy system is now well advanced in the southern Yukon village.

Fully using the available forest resource to its best advantage is seen as the best route for Teslin to further its forest industry aspirations. At the same time, the Teslin Biomass Project promises a raft of other benefits to the approximately 400 community residents.

In the mid-1990s, there was a small sawmill in Teslin and a wood harvesting system to support it. But it went under. Now the Teslin Tlingit Council has an enhanced level of self determination and has developed its own model for a sustainable forest industry and providing the advantages its people want.

The Teslin Biomass Project’s first phase includes the installation of 10 new wood chip boilers from the Austrian manufacturer, Hargassner.

“They make a pretty forgiving chip boiler,” said Doug Hogan, who was involved with Teslin’s earlier experiences in the forest industry. They can accommodate wood chips that are green, dry, dirty and in different sizes. “They are also CSA approved and that was important to us.”

Another important factor for the Teslin Biomass Project was involving various levels of government and other interested parties from an early date in the process. Those relationships are continuing. For example, the Teslin Tlingit Council is co-operating with the Yukon Territorial Government to develop a commercial timber harvesting plan which will provide the raw material nucleus for the community sawmill.

Chipping the log component unsuitable for sawmilling as furnish for Teslin’s bioenergy system delivers additional cost and environmental benefits. Right now, Teslin relies on diesel fuel as its main power source.

“We will be able to offset about 110,000 litres of diesel fuel each year,” estimated Blair Hogan, Doug’s son. “And there should be a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of about 7470 tonnes/year.”

Hogan said later implementation stages of the Teslin Biomass Project will see the system expanded to service local Yukon Territorial Government offices and the Teslin municipality. Later on, the bioenergy system will expand to serve both industrial and residential clusters in the lakeside village.

When the much anticipated sawmill is up and running, Hogan anticipates its priority will be serving the community. “Teslin will be its own lumber customer.”

In June, Hogan outlined what Teslin anticipates from its wood biomass project to a receptive audience at the 8th Canadian Biomass Conference and Exhibition held in Prince George, British Columbia. Hogan would like to take the interest one step further. They’re interested in sharing their model and approach and develop a kind of district heat system tourism, he outlined.

Biomass heating systems have been successfully introduced to larger northern communities including Whitehorse, Yukon and Yellowknife, NWT. But according to Clean Energy BC, more than 292 rural or isolated communities are still dependent on diesel fuel to support their energy needs. Clean Energy BC has been around for more than 25 years.

“Our goal is to develop a power generation and power management industry in B.C. that serves the public interest by providing cost effective electricity through the efficient and environmentally responsible development of the province’s generation and transmission facilities,” says its website.

One of the most isolated communities in B.C. is Kwadacha or Fort Ware. The community of about 80 homes is about 570 kilometres north of Prince George and accessed only by air or by a frame-rattling series of logging roads north of Mackenzie and Williston Lake. For years, the Kwadacha Nation has been working toward weaning itself from a total reliance on imports of diesel and propane.

A major step forward was taken in 2017 with the start up in Kwadacha of North America’s first off-grid wood biomass gasification energy system. It incorporates well proven technology used in plants of varying sizes in Europe and Japan from the German manufacturer Spanne Re2. But the location and BC Hydro’s diesel generation plant in Kwadacha makes the application groundbreaking.

It starts with the raw material. In Teslin, their wood is air dried for a couple of years until a moisture content of 20 to 30 per cent is reached before it is chipped and stored. In the Kwadacha process, wood chips have to meet exacting standards of size and a maximum 15 per cent moisture content. Chips are burned in gasifiers and the gas cooled and filtered before being fed into three generators.

The mountain pine beetle epidemic has helped supply Kwadacha with many years supply of suitable wood fibre. Surplus heat from the gasification process is used to heat the community school, dry the wood chips as required and heat three hydroponic greenhouses for year around operation. The much-anticipated greenhouses will provide residents with fresh organic veggies like cucumber, peppers and tomatoes.

Logging and Sawmilling Journal
September 2018

On the Cover:
A new Sennebogen 830 M-T at the Cameron River Logistics operation in northern B.C. moves 16-foot CTL logs from truck to rail for the Dunkley sawmill. Watch for the next issue of Logging and Sawmilling Journal, and a feature story on how a Sennebogen 830 M-T log handler’s stacking ability has boosted yard capacity for Saskatchewan’s Edgewood Forest Products (Photo courtesy of Sennebogen).

Securing safer sawmills
Forest industry veteran—and safety advocate—Kerry Douglas has seen safety become a higher priority over the course of his 48-year career, with more focus on mill safety, especially in areas like dust containment.

B.C.’s Conifex Timber goes south…
B.C.-based Conifex Timber is doubling its production capacity with major sawmill investments in the U.S. South—including a significant upgrade to its El Dorado mill.

Capital investment delivers production boost
Ontario sawmiller Lavern Heideman & Sons has invested $17 million in its operations, and it has paid off big time, with an expected production boost of 60 per cent.

Idaho mill gets high tech makeover
The Idaho sawmill of Woodgrain Millwork is definitely on the upswing, thanks to a high tech makeover with equipment from suppliers, including HewSaw and Bosch Rexroth.

Going full tilt…
Tilt Contracting’s Russ Parsons has grown his operation, thanks to a strong focus on having logging equipment that delivers on B.C.’s steep slopes—and counts himself fortunate for having a solid crew, both at work and on the home front.

Upping veneer volume
Family-owned ATCO Wood Products has been able to double its production of veneer products over the last five years, with a series of smaller equipment upgrades and changes—and a team approach at the company.

Sawmilling is sometimes like a box of chocolates…
Operating a small sawmill for Saskatchewan’s Vernon Heatwole can be like Forest Gump’s box of chocolates, in that he never knows what kind of unusual lumber order the next phone call will bring.

Keeping their options open—even with logging equipment
Maintaining their independence and keeping their options open—including being open to buying and selling equipment at any time—has paid off for veteran logging operation D & L Rehn Contracting.

Mountains of wood residue
A hog fuel working group that had sought workable solutions to the problems presented by the growing volumes of wood residues on the B.C. Coast has found there are no easy solutions to dealing with these mini-mountains of residual wood.

Saskatchewan sawmiller Dean Christiansen has taken a leap forward in equipment with an upgrade to a Wood-Mizer LT70 electric band sawmill, which has allowed him to double his production potential.

The Edge
Included in this edition of The Edge, Canada’s leading publication on research in the forest industry, are stories from the Canadian Wood Fibre Centre and Alberta Innovates.

The Last Word


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