Canadian biomass fuel testing center opens

By Anna Austin | February 28, 2011

The University of New Brunswick has officially opened the Canadian BioEnergy Centre, a facility that will provide direct assistance to the emerging bioenergy industry across Canada.

The facility’s lab has multiple new machines and equipment that allow the CBEC to directly assist the solid fuel industry in numerous ways, said CBEC Manager Michael Albright. These include equipment to evaluate of the fiber quality of feedstocks coming into a pellet mill or bioenergy mill, a lab-scale pelletizer, hammer mill and chipper, and a machine that can measure particulate matter and gas emissions. “We tried to have a really broad range of capabilities so we could cover the whole range of the potential [bioenergy] sector,” Albright said.

The facility will not limit its testing to wood pellets, but includes any kind of solid, densified biomass fuel, including ag pellets and briquettes. “Other researchers within the university are doing work on liquid biofuels and there might be opportunities to collaborate with them in the future, but our focus right now is on solid biofuels, district heat and that sort of thing,” Albright said, adding that the center will act as a link to the university’s research expertise and the bioenergy industry. “We have access to the academic expertise, but it’s not strictly a teaching exercise like you’d have on the regular campus where the main mandate is to educate students and do fundamental research and development,” he said. “Ours is more applied and practical to meet the current needs of the industry.”

One of the center’s next initiatives is to develop a pilot-scale biomass community heating project, for which the CBEC will look for communities within the region that are ideal candidates for district heating. “For example, if there’s a school that needs a boiler upgrade or has a heating system that’s running on fossil fuels and is due to be replaced, maybe there is a small community nearby that that could be part of a closed-loop heating system,” Albright said. “We would measure and quantify all of the social and economic impacts and benefits that would come from it and put that out there as a model and a report so that other communities could look at it for their own individual scenarios.”

Albright said the CBEC will soon meet with a number of local stakeholders to get the project underway. “It could involve pellet producers, farmers or wood manufacturing individuals, and we have a number of small, rural communities that would really fit well with this scenario. Within the next year, we hope to have the project agreed upon and ready to move forward. “