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Bioenergy in Action

The Canadian Bioenergy Association's annual conference and trade show, held recently in Ottawa, testified to the rapid industry momentum experienced in 2008.
By Crystal Luxmore
North American companies and communities have a lot to learn from their European counterparts. European companies, primarily in Scandinavia, have decades of experience in biomass power and the logistics and incentives associated with it.

The Canadian Bioenergy Association (CANBIO) is doing its part to bring those groups together in one location. The association's annual event was held Oct. 6-8 in Ottawa, Ontario.

The conference stayed true to its theme, From Words to Action. Twenty-five trade show exhibitors from Ireland, Finland, Sweden, the United States and Canada, including companies John Deere, Ponsse, Metso Power and Buhler, showcased the latest technologies and equipment impacting the biomass industry. The event also featured a business-to-business session, where interested delegates held private meetings with trade show companies. "The one-on-one meetings were a great chance to sit down and just talk business with interested people," said Björn Vikinge of Vikinge Forest & Bioenergy AB.

Project consultant and long-time forester Dean Johnson discussed the fast-paced changes in Canada's wood energy industry. He operates D.F. Johnson & Associates in Pembroke, Ontario. "Seven years ago we were burning mill residues, and four years ago mills were paying to have it removed," Johnson said.
Johnson said that more competition for biomass residues is one factor in driving residue prices up over the past year. "Sawmill residues went from being considered waste to being
a lucrative product in high demand," he said.

Biomass buyers can expect annual price negotiations and shorter contract terms for biomass supply, Johnson said. He predicted that biomass prices could rise by as much as 25 percent over the next four years, though others in the industry predicted that currently inflated prices will fall due to recovery of the Canadian sawmill industry.

Small-scale power generation also made big strides in 2008. Quebec is creating favorable regulations to help its struggling forest communities develop bioenergy heat and power projects. While Hydro Quebec continues to increase its biomass cogeneration targets, the real crusaders can be found at the regional level, said Carl Éric Guertin, CANBIO director and marketing director of the Quebec Wood Energy Board.

Several regional groups throughout Quebec have been working together to get bioenergy off the ground in the province by visiting Scandinavia to study best practices and equipment. They've also published case studies for wood pellets, and central heating and district heating to help communities decide if they have a solid business case. The Bas-Saint-Laurent region, which is located along the south shore of the St. Lawrence River in Quebec, has set a goal to install 10 central heating projects by 2010. "The regional boards are crusaders," Guertin said. "They're really pushing wood-to-energy and they're working cooperatively to get biomass going here."

Following the conference, several Finnish companies visited Matapédia, Temiscaming and Ville Marie, Quebec, and Hearst, Ontario, to help those communities with their biomass plants.

Carbon Credits, Wood Pellets
World Bioenergy Association President Kent Nyström's keynote address showed Canada has a long way to go before making bioenergy a critical part of its energy system. He said the turning point for his homeland of Sweden came when its government introduced a carbon tax. Citizens were given an income tax break in return for paying a tax on carbon. As a result, public acceptance was high, he said.

"One thing is clear, whether it be through a carbon tax or trading in carbon credits, Canada needs to put a value on carbon now," CANBIO President Doug Bradley said as he summed up a panel discussion on Canada's renewable energy industry.

WBA Secretary Karin Haara, who has worked in Scandinavia's biomass industry for more than 20 years, said that the discussions she heard at the conference made her "feel like I was sitting in an auditorium in Sweden in the year 1985. We had 7 percent of our country's energy coming from biomass in 1980, now it's 29 percent and we're going to double it again."

Like Nyström, Haara said she feels strong government incentives, such as a carbon tax or cap-and-trade system, could help the industry take off.

Speakers said the wood industry itself needs to change in order to achieve greater success. "We're in the energy business," said John Swaan, CANBIO board member and executive director of the Canadian Wood Pellets Association. "We're not in the forest products business."

Jane Todd, CANBIO director and Ontario Power Generation program manager for the Northwest, said the province's major power utility is intensively testing biomass to ready itself should the province decide to convert coal-fueled plants to biomass.

From just one biomass-testing program in 2007 at its Nanticoke, Ontario, plant, Ontario Power Generation is conducting an "aggressive testing program in all of our plants," Todd said. The utility has been pleased with results thus far, she said. "Last year the Atikokan [Ontario] plant had never put a wood pellet in their plant, but by July (2008) it had burned 100 percent wood pellets for four hours," Todd said. "We can't believe how easy it was."

Todd said part of the reason behind the shift was the recent review ordered by Energy Minister George Smitherman into the renewable energy and conservation portion of the Integrated Power System Plan. The province ordered the review to ensure it is maximizing renewable energy sources, and biomass could prove an important part of the mix if the government wants to reach its goal of phasing out coal by 2014.

Wood pellets are one of Canada's greatest bioenergy success stories. "We're global leaders in pellet production technology and our exports to Europe will continue to grow," Swaan said. His association has been developing a "super pellet" using steam explosion and torrefaction to get a pellet with 30 percent more calorific value, resulting in output of 6.5 megawatts per tonne. Swaan said they're in the "black box" phase of development and hope to bring the super pellet to market within the next year.

Most of Canada's wood pellets are shipped to Europe, and Swaan said he sees it remaining the biggest market in the near future. However, he said more work needs to be done to develop a domestic industry for wood pellets, especially in the face of the recent economic crash.

CANBIO and the Wood Pellet Association of Canada are working together to create Go Pellets, a program that promotes a domestic wood pellet market. "The pellet industry is the most active bioenergy market in Canada today," said CANBIO Director Chris Rees. "The only other country that's working on the super pellet is The Netherlands. Canada has a competitive advantage and the federal government should jump on this bandwagon."

Rees said he would like to see domestic pellet production increase to 500,000 tonnes (551,000 tons) per year, with 200,000 tonnes (220,000 tons) for industrial use and the remainder for residential pellet furnaces, which already burn about 5 tonnes (5.5 tons) of pellets per year. Germany achieved this rate of residential use in approximately 10 years, and Rees said he thinks Canada can do the same.

Go Pellets has applied to Industry Canada for funding to draw up a roadmap to develop the pellet market. It's also pulling together interested stakeholders to sit on an advisory board. Rees invited those interested in participating in the initiative to contact him at crees@xplornet.com.

Other Opportunities
Pellets aren't the only area where Canadian research and development prowess is turning heads. Denis Arquin, vice president of engineering and implementation at Enerkem, told stakeholders how the company is turning "negative-value" feedstocks, such as municipal solid waste and used telephone poles or railroad ties, into ethanol. He said Enerkem's Westbury, Quebec, ethanol plant should start up in 2008. The plant is expected to produce 5 million liters of ethanol per year (1.3 MMgy) from treated telephone polls.

Arquin also outlined a deal that Enerkem signed with Edmonton, Alberta, which will see the company's plant take 100,000 tonnes (110,000 tons) of the city's municipal solid waste each year, helping Edmonton to achieve a 90 percent diversion rate from the landfill.

Conference delegates got a chance to see waste-to-energy technology up close during a study tour at Plasco's Ottawa, Ontario, facility. Plasco's plant gasifies and converts municipal solid waste into a clean syngas. Plasco Program Manager Andrea Foottit said their process is unique because it doesn't require any pretreatment of the waste, which includes up to 8 percent shredded plastics. The process leaves 1.3 kilograms of disposal per tonne of waste processed.

More than 60 delegates took part in the study tour. Delegates also visited Abitibi-Bowater's cogeneration plant in Hull, Quebec, and Camionnage Norman Sans-Cartier, a biomass harvesting and processing operation.

Crystal Luxmore is public relations manager for the Canadian Bioenergy Association. Reach her at canbio@gmail.com or (647) 239-5899.
 

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