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An innovative clean energy start-up, G4 Insights Inc., has successfully demonstrated its technology can convert all types of wood waste into renewable natural gas (RNG) that is indistinguishable from conventional natural gas.
The company is now eager to scale up its technology, preferably at a sawmill. That would provide Alberta’s forest industry with another commercial outlet for underutilized wood waste, while also delivering a significant environmental dividend to the province.
Renewable natural gas produced from sustainably managed forest residues can emit up to 85 per cent fewer greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than conventional natural gas.
Alberta Innovates (AI) partnered with Natural Resources Canada, the Natural Gas Innovation Fund (NGIF), gas distributor ATCO, and FPInnovations to provide $2.8 million in grants and in-kind contributions toward the six-month demonstration conducted by G4 Insights. AI provided $250,000 through its Alberta Bio Future program.
Jason Nixon, Alberta’s Environment and Parks Minister, said Alberta is pleased to support the development of this type of clean technology. Nixon said it fits well with the province’s newly introduced Technology Innovation and Emissions Reduction (TIER) program.
Steve Price, Executive Director, Bioindustrial Innovation at Alberta Innovates, said the Alberta Bio Future program has over the years invested in projects that promote the research, development and use of the province’s abundant, renewable resources in forestry and agriculture for the development of new bioproducts and exports.
“Not only are we adding value to these wood residues and potentially creating new revenue streams for forest companies and helping rural communities that depend on this industry, we are also creating diversification in the energy industry and creating new opportunities using disruptive technology, all while lowering our carbon footprint,” Price said.
Development of this technology has strong support from the natural gas delivery industry, from the Canadian Gas Association and the association’s Natural Gas Innovation Fund (NGIF). NGIF Managing Director John Adams noted his organization has been with G4 Insights from the beginning.
“This is a very exciting clean energy project for us and G4’s technology has the potential to be a game changer in the field of renewable natural gas,” said Adams.
G4 Insights’ equipment is located at an ATCO facility in Edmonton. For the first time in Alberta, RNG was injected directly into ATCO’s pipeline distribution system for use in homes and businesses. It provided an opportunity for G4 to collect technical and financial data to determine the optimal performance of its conversion unit.
“RNG from wood waste is a largely untapped renewable resource that Canadians can use to heat and power their homes and businesses, using a carbon-neutral fuel,” said Graeme Feltham, ATCO Utilities Vice President, Customer Experience & Innovation. “ATCO is supportive of RNG as a technology and is hopeful that their support will help accelerate the adopting of RNG in Alberta and commercialization of the G4 technology.”
This technology, co-founded and developed by two University of Alberta engineering grads, Edson Ng and Matt Babicki, can process wood waste like branches and tops that are typically piled and burned at the roadside in logging operations, and wood waste generated at sawmills. Ng says the process has a net 70 per cent efficiency, meaning 70 per cent of the energy in the raw material used is converted into RNG. The remainder is biochar which is reused as part of the process and a small amount of ash byproduct.
G4’s demonstration unit can process 100 kilograms of wood waste into one gigajoule of RNG per day. The next step is to scale up their technology to a pilot plant capable of processing two tonnes of wood waste per day to produce 20 GJs of RNG. The goal is to build a commercial plant capable of processing 36 tonnes of wood waste per day to produce 450 GJs of RNG, followed by a larger plant able to process material from sawmill operations rated at 750 tonnes of wood waste per day and producing 10,000 GJs of RNG.
G4 was able to use a geospatial database created with Alberta Innovates support called the Bio-Resource Information Management System (BRIMS), a comprehensive online tool that identifies biomass throughout Alberta.
“We used this system to find 16 million tonnes of biomass,” says Ng. This amount of biomass could support 64 commercial RNG plants, which in turn could supply RNG to three million Alberta homes.
Ng notes it would make the most sense to locate commercial plants at or near sawmills. That would reduce the number of commercial RNG plants to between 15 to 20 in Alberta, supplying up to one million Alberta homes.
For more information about Alberta Innovates’ support for this project and the Alberta Bio Future Program, contact Julia Necheff at Julia.Necheff@albertainnovates.ca.
By Tony Kryzanowski
NRCan’s Canadian Wood Fibre Centre (CWFC) has launched a Legacy Network of Sites initiative to provide industry, forest practitioners, researchers, and the public with a legacy site network.
It will present practical knowledge on the impact of technical innovations to forest practices that have been established to address primary forest management questions.
The goal of this initiative, expected to take two to five years, is to protect the investment made by various stakeholders to establish these technical development sites, gather valuable data related to R & D conducted on these sites, and to protect and to promote them, maximizing their value, and of course, preserving a legacy for present and future stakeholders.
One part of this Legacy Network of Sites is the Alberta Forest Practices Innovation Trail Network.
This Trail Network is a cluster of legacy sites that consists of CWFC and Canadian Forest Service (CFS) forest research and development sites established within Alberta’s commercial forest over several decades. They were established in partnership with a variety of stakeholders, including industry, forest regulators, and universities, typically to address a particular, high profile forest management issue of the day.
The initial focus is a compendium of forest practices research done in the Alberta boreal plains mixed wood forest focused on mixtures of trembling aspen and white spruce, white spruce, and lodgepole pine.
Sites included within the Trail Network are operational scale sites and novel demonstrations that have five to 35 years of history, with practical applicability, ecological and technical descriptions of original disturbances and technical applications, designs and layouts, and growth response monitoring plots. They also have relevance today, demonstrating to industry results from a particular application which they may find beneficial, and worthy of adoption in their current forest management practices.
“These Trail Network sites address the newly evolving challenges associated with climate change, impacts related to the mountain pine beetle, fire vulnerability, and reforestation, as well as industry concerns related to stem size and timber supply issues,” says Derek Sidders, Project Manager, Technology Development and Transfer at CWFC.
Among the other issues that research and development on sites within the Trail Network will help address are long-term diversity in the forest as a risk reduction strategy in an era of changing climate as well as the role of forests in carbon sequestration. It is invaluable to have long-term research studies and demonstrations to use as evidence and validation of sound practices that will influence on-the-ground forest management by forest companies.
“The forest industry is interested in an expanded, enhanced, and sustainable forest as it relates to timber supply of the species and size that are going to be useful to an efficient and diverse forest industry and enhanced bio-economy,” says Sidders.
One example of a Trail Network site is the Tom Hill Tower area north of Edson, Alberta. It was a demonstration of innovative site preparation practices to grow trees quickly using mixing site preparation technology to establish planted trees effectively without additional vegetation control treatments.
“At year 26, we have white spruce that are 10 to 12 metres tall and 15 to 20 centimetres in diameter,” says Sidders. “These trees were planted in 1993, so in that short amount of time, these trees experienced phenomenal growth in a mixed wood scenario. These are high value trees grown over a short time frame, with the potential to increase product options as white spruce is one of the most valued fibre sources in Canada.”
There are also Trail Network sites demonstrating the planting of white spruce in understoreys, done in conjunction with the local forest industry and provincial governments. These sites focus on diverse fibre supply for both hardwood pulp, OSB and the dimensional sawmill industry.
Individuals interested in the location of Trail Network sites and the documentation attached to them will be able to access digital or hard copy documents as the Legacy Network of Sites evolves. CWFC is also developing a spatial imagery system linked directly to the on-the-ground technical layouts, aerial visuals of the actual practices being deployed, and the follow up growth response.
Sidders says that in general, the public would be surprised by just how much quality and practical on-the-ground research has been conducted over several decades within the commercial forest, and that this is an investment worth protecting and promoting, which is the whole point of this Legacy Network of Sites initiative.
For more information about this initiative, contact Derek Sidders firstname.lastname@example.org.