Canada has more biomass per capita than any other country in the planet according to an article by Tony Kryzanowski in the November issue of Logging and Sawmilling Journal.
A recent bio-cleantech forum in Ottawa looked at sustainable use of forestry, agriculture and municipal waste to build upon Canada’s economic and human resource strengths. A conservative estimate is that domestic biomass alone could provide for 20 per cent of Canada’s yearly energy supply.
Clean biotech could help reduce the carbon foot print in the oil sands. Today 95 per cent of the hydrogen used in upgrading of the crude bitumen into synthetic crude comes from natural gas. The use of non replaceable clean natural gas to process the bitumen for shipment and further processing has been questioned considering the marginal price it is selling for. Alberta researchers have been using woody biomass to produce syngas which provides the hydrogen to replace the use of natural gas. At this stage the production of the syngas is three to four more times as expensive but considering that most of the biomass is wasted research should be ongoing to reduce the costs of production which would help our house gas impact in the future.
Another topic discussed by Kryzanowski was the use of short duration willow plantations for the production of woody biomass. Only three years after planting the willow it was harvested and bailed for shipment. The rapid growth is partially due to the addition of biowaste from the city of Calgary.
Smaller projects in Whitecourt and Camrose have been applying municipal waste to short term willow or aspen as a way of reducing their treatment costs by 20 to 30 per cent compared to building another treatment cell.
The Camrose county experiment showed that the rotation of wood crops was successful in the rehabilitation of solonetzic soils with further benefit of using the woody biomass as biofuel for heating buildings. The use of wastewater increased the willow yield from 20 to 30 per cent. Another project that is being considered is the use of short term willow or aspen rotations for the rehabilitation of mine sites.
The researchers felt that many small communities in the range of about 500 people could benefit from these kinds of integrated projects. These projects are not only good at providing local employment but give the communities (often in remote locations) some level of independence from power failures.
Integrating these kinds of projects with a local sawmill would be ideal for utilizing residual waste from the mill as well as providing alternates to woody biomass production associated with fluctuating lumber markets.
The heat supplied by some of these projects could be used for dry kilns, green houses or private / public buildings. The community sludge can be used to produce clean willow for composting or bio fuel.
We have to start thinking of our waste products as potential energy and nutrient sources and not something to dispose of in our already compromised river systems.
Jim Hilton is a professional agrologist and forester who has lived and worked in the Cariboo Chilcotin for the past 40 years. Now retired, Hilton still volunteers his skills with local community forests organizations.