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Carbon Sink

The 411 on the forest carbon sink

The scientific community is abuzz with talk about sinks—the kind you have to step outside and be with nature to see. Carbon sinks are components of the ecosystem that capture and store more carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere than they release.

Natural carbon sinks include oceans, trees, plants, and soil. Trees capture CO2 in the atmosphere and convert it into carbon through photosynthesis. Stored carbon is environmentally neutral, which is just one reason why forests and forest products are our allies in combatting the effects of climate change and in achieving climate-change mitigation goals.

FPInnovations is collaborating with a network of research scientists and government officials in the Working Group on Forests and Climate Change (WGFCC) to report on emissions and carbon stocks in land use. The group is modelling three options through which the forest industry can contribute to greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction: more intensive forest management, developing a market for bioenergy, and a combination of both.

“We have to move beyond conventional ways to reduce emissions,” says Patrick Lavoie, an FPInnovations senior sustainability scientist and WGFCC leader. “

Relying on reducing emissions from transportation, industry, and buildings is reaching for low-hanging fruit,” Lavoie says. “Governments are now looking at drastically cutting emissions and it’s becoming clear that society needs to apply negative-emission technologies to get there; such as bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, and forest-based strategies geared towards products with long service lives.”

By 2030, Canada has committed to reducing its GHG emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels. Lavoie says that a forest-based bioeconomy can become a major player in meeting that target by replacing emissions-intensive products and energy and moving towards renewable options. This strategy will also allow the forest industry to maximize revenue from every log that’s harvested.

Canada is well-positioned with its swaths of boreal forests, which cover 35 per cent of our land mass and make up nearly 10 per cent of the worlds’s forests, to take the international lead in strategic forest planning to mitigate the effects of climate change.

What does this mean for the forest industry?

Lavoie and the WGFCC want to see the forest industry capitalize on Canada’s prodigious forests to increase CO2 sequestration and to have carbon sequestration in forests and forest products recognized as a way to achieve GHG targets set for 2030 and 2050.

“The industry is typically supportive of a more active role in climate change mitigation and governments are increasingly open to considering the forest sector’s contributions,” says Lavoie.

The forest carbon sink offers part of the solution to a man-made global crisis. By intensively managing wood stocks to augment the sequestration of CO2, the forest industry will ensure its economic viability while creating a sustainable industry that contributes to reducing GHG emissions.

For more information on FPInnovations’ research on the forest carbon sink, please contact Patrick Lavoie at Patrick.Lavoie@fpinnovations.ca


Research funded by Alberta Innovates investigates lignin as feedstock for biofuelDemo observing: A member of the U of A research team investigates various organisms that can cost-effectively break down lignin from a complex molecule to a simple molecule that can then be used to make biofuels.

Research funded by Alberta Innovates investigates lignin as feedstock for biofuel

By Tony Kryzanowski

The University of Alberta has developed an exciting new technology supported by Alberta Innovates (AI) that is able to convert oils and fats, commonly known as lipids, into green fuels like renewable diesel and biojet fuel.

While the feedstock used in the lipid-to-hydrocarbon (LTH) technology developed at the U of A is typically plant oil from crops like non-food-grade canola or animal fats, researchers are now being asked to consider byproducts from the forest industry, such as lignin, as a potential feedstock.

Biofuels are an environmentally friendly alternative to conventional fossil fuels, with raw materials to produce them sourced from renewable resources. They can also be dropped into existing conventional fossil fuel streams.

Lignin, a byproduct of the pulp industry, is abundant, bio-friendly, and an under-utilized biomass that represents another potential non-food feedstock alternative for use in the LTH process. The question is whether it can be converted to biofuels economically.

Alberta Innovates (AI) has provided $240,667 to the U of A through its Alberta Bio Future research and innovation funding program to answer this question.

“Alberta Innovates is interested in seeing more biomass used to create industrial bioproducts such as biofuel. We invest in promising research and product development, as well as scale-up and commercialization of new bioproducts and technologies,” says Steve Price, Executive Director of Bioindustrial Innovation at Alberta Innovates.

“This kind of innovation helps to expand business opportunities for the forestry sector, an important industry employing 40,000 Albertans,” Price adds. “It also helps to expand the growing bioeconomy in Alberta. In addition, biofuels made from renewable, sustainable biomass such as lignin will help to lower our carbon footprint.”

The researchers working on this project are collaborating with InnoTech Alberta, an applied research subsidiary of AI, and forest products manufacturer, West Fraser, which is supplying high-quality lignin from a lignin recovery facility at its pulp mill in Hinton, Alberta. Construction of this lignin recovery facility also received AI funding.

Invention of the LTH technology was spearheaded by Dr. David Bressler, Professor of Biorefining Conversions & Fermentations, and Associate Dean of Research in the Faculty of Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences at the University of Alberta. Dr. Bressler says if his team succeeds in finding a way to prepare lignin so that it can be used as a feedstock for the LTH process, this will provide yet another potential commercial outlet for lignin.

This is cutting-edge science and it won’t be easy because of the complexity of the lignin molecule.

“We are working with InnoTech and West Fraser, looking for organisms that can ferment and convert lignin into lipid oils and fats that can then be converted further into renewable diesel, green gasoline and now potentially biojet fuel by using our base technology,” says Dr. Bressler.

He notes that forest companies already produce lipids as part of their pulping process, creating another byproduct called tall oil, which also has potential as an LTH process feedstock. Considering both lignin and tall oil, this could potentially create new revenue streams for the forest industry, with forest company byproducts going into biofuel production.

“There is a very large volume of this material available,” Bressler says. “So, if we are able to find more applications to use it, this creates more markets. The more markets you have for your feedstock, the better it is for industry, because markets for conventional wood products go up and down all the time.”

With the growing world population and demand for energy, coupled with reduced availability over time of non-renewable fossil fuels, there is a need to find a variety of feedstocks to produce energy, he adds. This makes the investigation into the potential of pulp industry byproducts as a potential renewable feedstock resource for the production of biofuel critically important for the future.

“We are looking for ways to take this complex lignin molecule and converting it into a very simple molecule that can go into a lot of other pathways,” says Dr. Bressler. “The challenge is to do that cost-effectively.”

For more information about LTH technology and work associated with preparing lignin as a potential feedstock, contact Dr. David Bressler at david.bressle@ualberta.ca. For more information about the Alberta Bio Future program, contact Julia Necheff at julia.necheff@albertainnovates.ca.


CWFCCWFC Short Rotation Woody Crop Technology Finds New Use To Mitigate And Revegetate Industrial Sites

by Tony Kryzanowski

Multinational fertilizer producer, Nutrien, has proven that short rotation woody crop (SRWC) plantation technology developed by the Canadian Wood Fibre Centre (CWFC) can be used successfully to revegetate phosphogypsum byproduct stacks, with many advantages over a standard grass cover crop.

For the past two decades, CWFC has developed, tested and validated its SRWC establishment and management protocols at various technical development and demonstration sites across Canada using hybrid poplar and aspen clones in high yield afforestation applications of 1100-1600 stems per hectare, as well as hybrid poplar, willow and aspen in concentrated biomass designs with 14,000-16,000 stems per hectare.

CWFC’s main focus has been to encourage uptake of these tree plantation systems on agricultural land. However, Nutrien has proven that CWFC's short rotation high yield afforestation technology in particular can be applied successfully as a long-term cover crop to mitigate and revegetate industrial sites.

After testing the technology in partnership with CWFC for the past five years on about 19 hectares of stored phosphogypsum stacks and a reclaimed retention pond at their nitrogen fertilizer production plant near Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta, Nutrien is now planning to roll out this revegetation system when they close their other production sites in Alberta.

This includes two more stacks in Fort Saskatchewan and the massive accumulation of phosphogypsum at the company’s Redwater fertilizer production plant northeast of Edmonton.

The company has shut down their phosphate production at Redwater this spring and are developing a reclamation plan to cap and vegetate phosphogypsum stacks on about 300 hectares of land.

“As we close phosphogypsum stacks, I am going to use this protocol,” says Nutrien Environmental Scientist, Connie Nichol. “This is a unicorn. Nobody has ever grown trees on phosphogypsum stacks before."

She adds that she promotes this proven revegetation system with all phosphate companies around the world, suggesting that they should be growing forests on their stacks instead of grass, while also sharing CWFC's short rotation woody crop technology.

In addition to developing high yield afforestation and concentrated biomass SRWC technology, CWFC has also developed a novel afforestation pattern where white spruce is planted in the understory of high yield afforestation crops, allowing adopters to grow two potential cash crops on the same land base. Nutrien intends to apply this pattern as part of its revegetation program, thus creating a mixed wood forest.

“This is a perfect example of first adopters taking advantage of our research and development and applying it technically onto their land base with success,” says Derek Sidders, Project Manager, Technology Development and Transfer at CWFC. “Their application produces a forest that protects against erosion of the land, cleans the water, and assists with air quality by capturing carbon dioxide.”

Nichol is supervising the Nutrien program and is working closely with CWFC Wood Fibre Development Specialist, Tim Keddy. She says that this revegetation method offers a number of advantages over the standard practice of using grass as a cover crop on phosphogypsum stacks.

First, their SRWC plantations achieved crown closure after about three years, requiring no further vegetation management below the trees. This means that Nutrien saves a significant amount of money by not having to repeatedly mow grass on the revegetated stacks, or treating weed infestations, should they occur.

Second, as a large emitter of greenhouse gases (GHGs) as part of its fertilizer production process, Nutrien is lowering its GHG impact as SRWC tree plantations are proven to sequester carbon at a significant rate well above even native forests.

Third, the tree plantations are a cash crop that offers the company an opportunity to harvest and market the wood fibre in the future to producers of bio-products.

Fourth, the SRWC plantations provide wildlife habitat and have attracted a wide variety of mammals and birds.

Fifth, testing of the SRWC crops shows no danger of toxicity within the trees and according to Nichol, they grow more quickly on the phosphogypsum stacks than on regular soil.

And finally, the sites demonstrate to the public Nutrien’s desire to be a responsible corporate citizen, concerned with their impact on the environment, particularly with the production of high volumes of phosphogypsum byproduct, and a willingness to mitigate their impact while helping the environment.

“The learning curve for me was very steep, so I was thrilled to partner with the Canadian Wood Fibre Centre, because they had the expertise in doing this and I had none,” says Nichol. “I couldn’t have done any of this without them. They were able to pick the tree clones which would do best in this situation and were able to customize the best afforestation plan for our conditions.”

CWFC prepared the sites slated for revegetation by deep disking the six to fourteen centimetres of topsoil to help with moisture penetration, consciously mixing some of the phosphogypsum with it. The trees responded well, with significant growth particularly in the first few years.

Keddy developed the plantation design, supervised the planting of 25 centimeter cuttings on the sites, as well as post-planting vegetation management, while at the same time monitoring growth response.

“While we are creating and rebuilding an active ecosystem on this site, we are also creating a commercial crop,” says Keddy. “With the design we have here with high yield afforestation, it could be used as an alternative fibre supply for pulp or OSB mills, bioenergy, renewable natural gas, and any product where wood from forests can be used.”

One important finding by CWFC is that hybrid poplar in a high yield afforestation pattern adapts and grows well on industrial sites, making this a viable option to remediate industrial sites across Canada. To date, seven clones have been established on the Fort Saskatchewan site.

Keddy says that it was a conscious choice during the rollout of the program at Nutrien to focus on high yield afforestation crops versus concentrated biomass.

“With the high yield afforestation protocol using hybrid poplar, the establishment, management, and recovery costs of the full lifecycle are cheaper. The establishment costs are much lower than those of the concentrated biomass design, and our numbers show that the volume and related values that we are achieving from high yield afforestation exceed those of the concentrated biomass design,” Keddy says.

“So at 1600 stems planted per hectare versus 14,000 to 16,000 stems per hectare, we are getting the same volume of wood fibre and the management costs are much lower. Plus, we are planting white spruce in the understorey,” he adds

Nichol says that the success achieved by Nutrien in partnership with CWFC on this project will reach a larger audience.

“I’m writing this up for the next International Fertilizer Association handbook on basically how to create a forest on phosphogypsum stacks,” she says. “What we have learned here and how we do it in Alberta can very well be appliedto other countries in the world.”


Truck PlatooningTruck platooning: on the road  towards a common goal

On the heels of the first-ever Canadian truck platooning trials on forest resource roads last year, FPlnnovations and partnersand have successfully conducted new platooning trials near La Tuque, Quebec, north of Trois Rivières, to test the system’s new features.

The July trials demonstrated that platooning technology can be adapted to perform under a wide variety of real-life operating conditions. The trials, conducted over a thousand kilometres, focused on the system’s ability to control the steering on the following truck, as well as the acceleration and braking systems.

The latest tests correspond to level 2 of SAE’s international standards for driving automation. Level 2 requires a driver at the wheel of all trucks in a platoon to supervise the driving, even though the computer system performs several tasks. At level 4—the desired goal of the project—only one lead driver is required in the first truck. SAE International is an association of technical experts in the aerospace, automotive, and commercial vehicle industries.

“We’re taking truck platooning on resource roads one step further and we aim to keep up the pace,” says Mathieu Blouin, FPlnnovations business development manager. “We’re increasing the complexity of the trials to get closer to real-world operations so that the system is able to respond safely to all the situations it will face.”

“Resolute Forest Products is proud to support continued trucking trials,” says Jonathan Perron, director of forest operations for Resolute Forest Products. “It is important for us to align the development of new technologies with our operational realities, which is what these tests allow us to do.”

Several sectors to benefit from platooning

Representatives from several industries, such as mining and defence, also observed a platooning demonstration and rode in the trucks during the trials. Blouin notes platooning technology can benefit several industries that are experiencing similar challenges, such as a skilled-driver shortage. The technology is seen as a viable solution to the situation and may attract a new generation of skilled workers to those sectors.

Blouin says by combining their efforts to achieve the common goal of deploying truck platoons as a matter of standard practice, they will reach the finish line quicker. “We obviously still have a lot of work ahead of us, but we believe that by bringing together the right players and the right technologies, it is possible to accelerate the development of this technology.”

Truck platooning is an emerging vehicle technology in which two or more trucks in a convoy are linked by a computer system that maintains the desired distance between trucks, as well as controls acceleration and braking, reacting faster than a driver can.

For more information on the business development of platooning, please contact Mathieu Blouin at
Mathieu.Blouin@fpinnovations.ca