Strong interest in BC bioenergy
The provincial utility asked in March for preliminary proposals in order to identify potential projects that will generate electricity from wood fibre fuel sources such as beetle-killed timber, sawmill residue and logging debris.
British Columbia is experiencing an unprecedented mountain pine beetle infestation that has affected several million hectares of trees throughout the province. The province also has an abundance of underutilized wood residues, in the form of sawmill residues, logging debris and a growing supply of timber killed by the mountain pine beetle that will become less usable for conventional forest products over time.
According to BC Hydro, over 80 companies, municipal governments and First Nations answered the call. Most proposals were based in the Central Interior of the province, which has an estimated nine million hectares of pine beetle infested woodlands.
BC Hydro will now evaluate the expressions of interest and plans to issue a Request for Proposals in the next three to four weeks.
The BC Energy Plan requires that at least 90 per cent of the province’s electricity must come from clean, renewable resources. The plan also stipulates that all new electricity projects will have zero net greenhouse gas emissions. Overall, the energy strategy aims to reduce BC’s emissions by at least 33 per cent below current levels by 2020, which equates to 10 per cent below 1990 levels.’
According to the government, the development of more biomass energy is a key component of the strategy.
“The number and diversity of submissions indicate the strong interest in emerging bioenergy opportunities in this province,” Forests and Range Minister Rich Coleman said in a release.
Developing an economical method of converting wood fibre and other cellulose sources into energy is a challenge which many Canadian firms are trying to meet. The biomass could be used to produce wood pellets to fire a biomass boiler, to produce cellulose-based ethanol fuel, or for other energy applications. Cellulose ethanol has a more favourable net energy balance than grain-based fuel, and so results in less greenhouse gas emissions and air pollutants over its life cycle.
Canadian companies involved in cellulose-based biofuels include: Ottawa-based Iogen Corp., which is planning a commercial scale straw-to-ethanol plant for either the United States or Canada; Vancouver’s Lignol Energy Corp., which has partnered with Suncor; and a joint venture between GreenField Ethanol Inc. and SunOpta Inc. aimed at constructing a plant to produce 40 million litres of cellulosic ethanol per year using wood chips.
The use of beetle-killed timber is also an important component of the Endless Energy model developed by the GLOBE Foundation, which outlines a plan to make BC energy self-sufficient by 2025 from renewable sources alone. A key point however, is that the province must develop other energy resources or biomass crops in order to sustain the level of power production as beetle-killed timber becomes depleted.