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Building bioenergy in commercial Canada

June 18, 2012 - Reducing a building's carbon footprint is a trend that is rapidly gaining steam in Canada, and many builders are looking to renewable energy sources to help meet their sustainability objectives.


June 18, 2012
By Andrew Macklin


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June 18, 2012 – Canadian contractors, architects and consultants have begun exploring the use of alternative energies for use in modern building project nationwide. As builders continue to look for ways to reduce their carbon footprint during construction, many are turning to renewable energy resources, including biomass, to help meet their sustainability objectives.

At the Canadian Green Building Council conference and trade show, held at the Metro Toronto Conventional Centre in mid-June, industry experts explored new ideas for creating buildings and communities that are environmentally sustainable. That meant discussing a variety of sustainable practices that have been used in buildings and evaluating their cost-effectiveness.

Blair McCarry of Perkins & Will led a presentation that focused on the potential energy sources that could be used to assist building projects in becoming carbon neutral, such as biomass, waste-to-energy, biogases, deep geothermal, solar, wind, run-of-the-river and micro hydro. Each of these sources, when incorporated into the energy used by the structure upon completion, can help to achieve a carbon neutral site.

The Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability in Vancouver, B.C. was completed in 2011 with the release of 525 tonnes of carbon emissions through the use of materials like glass, concrete and aluminum. However, on that same project, a total of 600 tonnes were sequestered through the use of wood products. Solar panels were built into the skylight and roof, and wood beams were left exposed. These features helped to create a site that was beyond carbon neutral, a guideline that McCarry expressed the need to continue to strive for in modern construction practices.

In the re-development of the Edmonton airport lands, Perkins and Will are incorporating the use of district heating. Excess heat from industrial sites will be piped into the district heating system benefitting two hospitals, City Hall, a shopping mall and a nearby college. By adapting alternative energy usage into the re-development, the net carbon reduction over the next 20 years is estimated at 3.2 million tonnes.

While discussing the need to incorporate district heating alternatives into modern building practices, McCarry commented that it is up to the municipalities to set higher expectations for energy efficiency in new projects. He cited that alternative energy could be added to design zoning guidelines within each municipality and set higher demands for energy use compliance as part of their expectations for new permit applications. McCarry says that a decision must be made: do what’s right for environmental sustainability or provide a set of minimal standards to make a project as cheap as possible. It’s a change in culture that also comes, in part, by separating Canadian building standards from American building standards by demanding gold and platinum LEED quality buildings.

On the trade show floor, several companies were buzzing about the incorporation of district heating and biomass into current projects. One representative from a leading firm in Toronto mentioned that there has been a noticeable increase in the number of inquiries made into the feasibility of district heating or alternative energy resources within the building design. There is also a push from organizations like the Canada Wood Council, who are lobbying to have the Building Code of Canada altered to allow wood buildings of up to 10 storeys high in Canada. The CWC was distributing copies of its 2012 Reference Guide for wood use in low-rise educational buildings in Ontario as an example of the quality of work that has been done using wood products.

The push for increasing Canadian building standards brings a desire to produce projects that are carbon neutral and environmentally fiendly. If this happens, it could help to push for a widespread use of sustainable resources, including biomass, on all sectors of our nation’s energy grid.


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