Use of biochar could reduce the green house gas emissions in B.C by 22 per cent

Substituting coal and natural gas with biochar could help the province reach its 33 per cent emission reduction goal by 2020.

A report published by the “Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions” entitled “Industry and Market Development of Biochar in B.C.” showed that substituting coal and natural gas with biochar could help the province reach its 33 per cent emission reduction goal by 2020.

This report published in February of 2014 is one of the few recent articles that looks into the economic limitations of producing bioenergy products that can compete with conventional fuels. For example, the lowest-cost feedstocks (about $20 per tonne) are mill residues which account for about 20 per cent of harvested round wood.

Most of this product is now being used by existing facilities close to the mills. The cogeneration plant and pellet plant are two good examples in Williams Lake.

The more expensive biomass products are primarily forestry residues from logging operations, commonly called slash piles. They are mainly burned on site at a cost to both the industry and air quality. Therefore, using cull piles to produce biochar offers an environmental positive and possibly economic returns in some locations.

Table four in the report shows an estimate of 8.7 million tonnes per year based on 16 per cent of round wood production at a cost estimate of $30 to $55 oven dry tones based on grinding and transportation.

As discussed in previous articles, 16 per cent may be a conservative estimate for the province because other studies show that for the interior dead pine stands the estimate is closer to 35 per cent with ranges between 15 as a low and over 55 per cent on some blocks.

The authors used an average of 10 million tonnes per year and estimated the production of five million tonnes per year of biochar, condensable oils and tars.

These products would more than replace the coal used (270 per cent) in the production of industrial steam and the manufacture of cement. This switch would cut the CO2 emissions in half in this specific example.

There are presently 12 B.C.-based companies producing or planning to manufacture biochar or related products such as biocoal.

The paper describes a number of char products produced from biological resources.

Other products are charcoal, biocoal, and charcoal. Some of the more exotic products include synthetic graphite which includes carbon electrodes selling at $1,500 to $5,000 per tonne.

Table two shows how the per cent production of three products (biochar, syngas and pyrolysis oil) is controlled by the temperature of the heating process and the time that the biomass is exposed to the heating.

It is therefore critical to identify the potential markets and then design a plant which will produce the greatest amount off products to meet the demand.

Figure three shows the potential revenue and greenhouse gas emission reduction for a variety of biomass uses. Electrical generation has medium revenue but low emission reduction because most of our existing electrical power is hydroelectric. Liquid fuels and biorefinery products have higher value than pellets, co-generation and heat value and all of the above are in the medium range of emission reduction.

Biochar production has the widest range in both potential revenue and emission reduction of any other products.

Before any meaningful planning can take place a more accurate description of the raw materials is needed.

For example, cull piles are deliberately created to achieve easy and efficient burning of the logging residual material.

The mixture of cull logs, tops and branches is piled so that rapid ignition and complete combustion will take place.

The existing cull piles are not useful for other potential uses (local fire wood, posts and rails etc.)or bioenergy uses. We should therefore look into the pros and cons of sorting and storing the various products in the field for future potential use.

For example prospective enterprises may be interested in the chipping of tops and branches while others would be more interested in the log component. I am told that when chip prices were higher the cull logs were separated on the landings so they could be easily chipped and loaded on chip trucks.

In future articles we will look at some government options that could encourage the establishment of business in some specific areas.

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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