Small-scale biomass projects could have significant impact

Small scale biomass projects may have a significant impact on the local rural communities.

Small scale biomass projects may have a significant impact on the local rural communities.

As discussed in previous articles the large residual biomass (10 million odt) will require government and industry working together to encourage the eventual phasing out of cull pile burning. In the meantime small local projects will provide some valueable information on the use of the non saw log material as well as employing locals.

For remote communities considering green energy projects there are two sources that should be consulted. The first one is “An information Guide on Pursuing Biomass Opportunities and Technology in BC.” The second one is “Green Heat Initiatives small scale biomass district heating handbook for Alberta and BC. March 2014.” The most encouraging aspect of the second reference is that two examples of the new initiatives are in the Chilcotin. In 2011 pellet furnaces were installed in the Alexis Creek and Tatla Lake schools. Both references provide an excellent guide for communities or small business contemplating some form of green energy heating systems or alternate energy production. Since it is unlikely that the expansion of natural gas will take place west of the Fraser River plus the abundance of logging biomass the expansion of green heating systems in many of the Chilcotin communities would be positive for the area. The existence of local markets for wood pellets is one of the factors that will make the on site production of pellets more cost effective. There are considerable references on small portable wood pellet systems that could move around to utilize the residual logging material. The small systems are not as efficient as the larger stationary systems like the pellet plant in Williams Lake but they may be more cost effective. As discussed in previous articles, it is imperative that the provincial government get involved in research and incentive programs that encourage existing tenure holders and biomass users to work together in developing the biomass industry.

A good example of “necessity being the mother of invention” is the large mill waste pile at the Downie sawmill near Revelstoke. In many of the smaller communities which don’t have ready access to cogen or pellet plants, must deal with waste material in other ways when they are no longer able to burn it. One alternative is to truck the material at considerable expense to a facility that uses the material. The construction of a centralized facility that can use the waste material from a number of smaller mills in the area may be a better alternative. While we can sympathize with small operations that are still struggling with mill waste, it is unlikely that there will be much incentive to look for alternate uses of the material if they are still allowed to burn it.

Figure 1.3 of the first paper listed provides a good overview of energy systems suitable for small to large communities. Systems that suit small remote communities like we have in the Chilcotin include heat only, pyrolysis (bio-oil), non steam systems and small scale pellets. It also shows that biodiesel (transesterification) has potential in both small scale as well as large industrial applications.

A combination of products may make a better business case. For example, a heating system may only be in use for six months of the year where as a business designed to produce biodiesel or bio oil in the summer season would provide year round employment.

The projects with the best chance of success would be projects that replace expensive diesel generators for rural hydro needs and at the same time are associated with a local sawmill with heating potential for lumber kilns and community heating needs. A community like Ahahim Lake comes to mind.

I encourage all readers to take some time to research the biomass heating options for your future needs. There have been some significant advances in the wood heating industry in terms of efficiency and safety and having other options will help keep gas and hydro prices reasonable.

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.