On a recent trip to Thunder Bay, Canadian Biomass had the opportunity to meet with several people involved in the emerging bioeconomy in Northwestern Ontario.
By Amie Silverwood
On a recent trip to Thunder Bay, Canadian Biomass had the opportunity to meet with several people involved in the emerging bioeconomy in Northwestern Ontario. This is a fertile wood basket in the centre of the boreal forest. Much of the economy is fed by the forest and though the recent downturn in the forest industry has meant sawmill closures, pulp and paper mills shutting down and skilled employees looking to other industries for work, it was great to see the industry is ramping back up at a healthy pace.
There’s great news in the region for the biomass industry as well. Atikokan’s power plant has fired up a few test runs and will be fully functional in the middle of this year and the news has recently been announced that the Thunder Bay coal plant will undergo a transformation to burn advanced biomass (see page 14 for details).
Why not? It makes a lot of sense for the region to use residual forest waste to power the facilities. The pellets come from sawmill waste or from trees that would otherwise be burned or left in the forest. Transportation isn’t an issue since the pellets can be made from local sources and trucked the short distance to the power plant. As other sawmills reopen, there will be more waste that can be collected and put to good use.
Canada’s own Atikokan Generating Station is the largest biomass-fuelled power station in North America. OPG (formerly HydroOne) has been looking at biomass as a potential fuel since the 1970s. It partnered with a number of universities and the province invested $4 million to look at heat, procurement and supply chain issues, mercury emission modelling, and test runs. The plant is set up to potentially do test runs – sending 30 tonnes of biomass directly from the truck into the boilers for observation and research.
When Canadian Biomass visited the facility, Brent Boyko, the Director of Business Development for Atikokan Generating Station, said it has been drawing a lot of attention from interested parties throughout North America. He has hosted a number of tours and he’s open to hosting many more going forward.
Deep in the forest of Northwestern Ontario, forest waste products can be converted into a fuel for power generation. There are many communities throughout Canada that would benefit from a similar system but sawmill residue isn’t the only waste product we have to burn. Wheat shorts, left over after the farmer has harvested the grain, can be pelletized, producing additional revenue for farmers without impacting food crops. We have an abundance of biomass from coast to coast to coast.
The trick is to seize the opportunity in our waste and to heat up discussions at home because the best way to reduce GHG emissions is to create our own fuels close to the facilities that will be burning them.
Amie Silverwood, editor