Biomass: a source of renewable energy for the future
It is becoming increasingly likely that biomass will become an important source of renewable energy in Canada and elsewhere in the world during the next few years and for the decades that will follow.
The biomass ‘family’ is made up of several categories of waste and by-products, including:
- solid biomass: wood, waste wood, forest residues, pellets, etc.;
- organic waste (agricultural, household and industrial) and
- liquid biomass: combustible liquids such as bioethanol and biodiesel.
Biomass can also be defined as being the total mass or quantity of organic matter that comes from living or dead organisms that are present at any given moment in a particular place or area. As such, biomass encompasses the biodegradable fraction of products from agriculture, forestry and related industries. It includes residues and waste that is derived from trees, plants and crops, the carcasses of deceased animals as well as food by-products.
In order to transform biomass into a viable form of energy, municipalities and communities interested in further exploring this new domain will have to look into the potential of several advanced technological processes, each one having been designed for a specific type of biomass: gasification, direct combustion, anaerobic digestion, pyrolysis, etc.
Eco-West has undertaken an initiative in this emerging sector of activity by creating a partnership with stakeholders such as Manitoba Hydro, Biovalco (a Winnipeg company that is already a recognized world leader in the valorization of agricultural and wood biomass), Industry Canada, the University of Winnipeg, Sagkeeng First Nation, as well as Quebec’s La Coop fédérée, which specializes in innovation and development in the areas of bio-products and renewable energy. La Coop will play a major role in the collection of data that will make the business case for the implementation of biomass heating systems in Manitoba.
There has already been one successful biomass project implementation in southern Manitoba as Otterburne’s Providence University College in the Rural Municipality of De Salaberry inaugurated its own biomass district heating system in the spring of 2011. This was made possible thanks to financial assistance obtained from Hydro Manitoba as well as the provincial government’s Community-Led Emissions Reduction (CLER) program, funded through the municipality with the support of the CDEM. The system is used to provide heat to three large campus venues, and has at the same time enabled the college to reduce is greenhouse gas emissions by more than 65%.
Understanding biomass and assessing its potential
As is indicated above, data collection will be undertaken in order to arrive at a better understanding of the potential of biomass as a source of renewable energy and assess its overall viability. In order to move forward in this regard, a funding request will be submitted to Industry Canada for a biomass study with the objective of creating an awareness among Western Canada’s municipalities concerning the options that are available where the adoption of biomass heating systems is concerned.
To achieve the foregoing, Eco-West’s goal is to create a non-technical, biomass outreach tool destined for public education that will enable municipalities to obtain answers to the following questions, among others:
- Exactly what is biomass heating (how do the various technological processes work?) and what are its advantages?
- Is it feasible to proceed with a conversion to biomass heating, and what are the costs of doing so?
- What forms of biomass are used, and what is their availability?
- What steps must be taken in order to achieve successful project completion?
There is by all accounts an abundance of biomass to be found in rural areas. However, there is a general lack of technical expertise and knowledge gaps that are currently major obstacles to facilitating a smooth transition to biomass heating. This is why steps must be taken to make information available to municipalities concerning the advantages of each type of biomass heating system.
In doing so, Eco-West’s goal is to help municipalities find solutions to pressing climate change issues such as the reduction of their carbon footprint and GHG emissions, while allowing them to lower their energy bills and at the same time improve their overall quality of life.