I rarely agree with Greenpeace. In the case of bioenergy, they have become a shrill, and at times, inconsistent, voice. I distrust their motives, and in return, they question mine. Still, I have to agree that it would be better for everyone if we did a better job of using bioenergy at home.
Don’t get me wrong (or quote me out of context) as our current model of exporting bioenergy around the world works. Evidence supports the carbon balance of the current pellet export business model and we are using our wealth of resources to help other jurisdictions reduce their reliance on non-renewable fossil fuels. We also create meaningful employment in remote and rural Canada in the process.
The bottom line is that Canada’s nascent biomass sector is doing the best it can with the markets available.
As a nation of energy consumers, we have the opportunity, perhaps even the obligation, to make so much more of the resources we are blessed with. Here are just some of the uses we can implement at home, with the right combination of innovation, leadership and encouragement.
Canadian co-firing: Where fibre is available (and it is in many areas) and coal is the alternative, this is a no-brainer.
Residential pellet heating: Modern systems are both low-emission and convenient. Do we really need to use petroleum products for heating?
District heating: This is an efficient model that may be too “socialistic” for many Canadians. However, it is time to get out of that 20th-century mindset and make this a growing reality.
Combined heat and power (CHP): Co-firing and district heating are good, but thermal efficiencies are only in the 40 to 45% range at best. In contrast, modern low-emission CHP systems can approach 90%, all using biomass sourced within 150 km. Multiply that several hundred fold, and we’ve made a significant change to our energy mix.
The greenhouse sector is rife with opportunity. I dropped in on a grower in southern Ontario in March that was using high-efficiency Cat generators to heat its greenhouses, push power on the grid, and create CO2 for the plants at over 90% thermal efficiency. They were on natural gas, but the concept holds true for biomass.
Bioproducts: Now combine all of the above methods by producing valuable bioproducts, with the process heat and steam being used for local needs, and we’ve attained the Holy Grail of bioenergy.
Are we heading in that direction? Yes. Are we moving there with a clear plan, orchestrated government support and adequate speed? Not at all.
That’s our challenge, and the vision of this magazine. •\