Pictured is the first stage of the solar farm at Hanceville — one of nine solar projects in B.C. Jim Hilton photo

Pictured is the first stage of the solar farm at Hanceville — one of nine solar projects in B.C. Jim Hilton photo

Fast growing hybrid hardwoods could help in future biomass plants

In the Cariboo Region with the ongoing impacts of the bark beetles along with the recent mega fires two years in a row there are new needs for research and development projects.

Jim Hilton

Special to the Tribune Advisor

With the reduced regulatory civil service due to the promotion of professional reliance there was also a significant reduction of provincial government research staff.

In the Cariboo Region with the ongoing impacts of the bark beetles along with the recent mega fires two years in a row there are new needs for research and development projects. For example what natural and man-made features can be incorporated into fire protection plans.

What species and species mixes may be the best to cope with drier climates and impending shortfalls in the short and midterm fibre production. What factors may help us attain the green house gas reduction goals.

There may be some answers from work being done on a research site south of the University of Alberta as described in the October issue of the Logging and Saw milling Journal.

Canadian Wood Fibre Centre (CWFC) staff have been planting and evaluating fast growing poplar, aspen and willow species with some amazing production rates. They have managed to produce anywhere from 16 to 22 cubic metres per hectare per year which is eight to 12 times higher than the natural forest production of 1.7 cubic metres per year. What is even more amazing is that softwood species like white spruce can also be grown along with the hardwoods which attain the accelerated growth rates.

While we have managed some impressive poplar production rates in the warmer climates of the Lower Mainland the growing conditions of Alberta are similar to our B.C. Interior conditions.

Tony Kryzanowski the author of the article is disappointed in the response by government and industry which seems to think we need results overnight.

He describes what he calls the Canadian 30-second attention span when it comes to identifying and funding promising research.

Read more: Column: Research and development needed

He suggests any funds from a carbon tax should be used for promoting industry and landowners to get behind this phenomenal increase in productivity.

While I would not be in favour of huge areas being planted to hybrid species there could certainly be economic advantages to have some of these stands surrounding any biomass facility to increase the profits by having a highly productive source of material close to the processing plant.

Growing sites close to manufacturing centers like Williams Lake could also take advantage of byproducts like the ash produced from the Atlantic power plant.

While this material may not be appropriate in the production of food products it should help with hybrid hardwood plantations. The continued stockpiling in the river valley does not seem like a good long-term plan.

Future strategically located biomass facilities could also help in the disposal of used railroad ties as well as using material from cull piles now being burned on site.

Hybrid hardwood stands could also provide another source of income for local farmers and ranchers in areas close to the processing plant.

As phenomenal as the hybrid hardwoods may be it still takes time to gain the necessary experience for the proper establishment of new ventures. New smaller scale power generation facilities to go along with projects like the solar farm at Hanceville would provide a reliable steady supply of power into the hydro grid.

Over the long term many smaller local power facilities provide more jobs per kilowatt hour produced and are safer than the remote mega projects like Site C.

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.


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