Turning a waste stream into a revenue stream and an environmental advantage is how the Canadian forest products industry approaches the use of mill and forest residues.
FPAC believes in the importance of maximizing the value from every tree harvested for economic, social and environmental reasons. One of the ways to do this is by making use of fibre residues – the bark, logging debris, sawdust and other waste products from pulp and paper plants or sawmills – for beneficial use. Using this stream is consistent with views expressed by environmental groups.
The forestry sector has a long history of using harvesting and processing waste to heat facilities. But residues such as bark, sawdust, wood chips, branches and tree tops are now also being used for sophisticated steam and electricity cogeneration facilities, lumber drying kilns and new bioenergy products such as wood pellets, syngas, cellulosic ethanol, biodiesel and bio-oil.
Forest biomass supplies more than 60% of the fuel used to generate heat and electricity in select Canadian pulp and paper mills. This figure is set to increase as governments and industry recognize that it makes good sense to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy sources and more efficient technologies.
After hydro-electricity, biomass is the second most important renewable energy source in Canada, with the forest industry’s use accounting for the largest share. With large reserves of agricultural and forestry resources, Canada has a clear economic strength to use to its advantage.
Bioenergy also represents about 5% of Canada’s total primary energy resources. Every year, more than 138 million megawatt-hours of bioenergy are used in the industrial sector. From a social perspective, bioenergy also creates more permanent employment than other energy sources. Considering the same capital investment, bioenergy creates twice as many jobs as other types of renewable energy and three times as many jobs as fossil fuels. This comes from a human resources study undertaken by the Canadian Forestry Service as part of the “Bio-pathways” project.
FPAC recognizes that the use of biomass for energy is not without its critics. Some believe that the increased use of biomass for energy puts forests and climate at risk. If the process were approached carelessly, we would agree. But, if done wisely, there is a strong environmental benefit.
When biomass-based products are used instead of more CO2-intensive alternatives, we avoid the increases in atmospheric CO2 that would have occurred had biomass not been used. Our renewable forest resource is part of nature’s cycle, and progressive forest management in Canada helps to ensure equilibrium, as growing trees store carbon or remove it from the atmosphere, offsetting the release of carbon from the use of the wood resource. This phenomenon does not exist with the use of fossil fuels, and therefore the forest biomass carbon cycle is currently a net sink for carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
FPAC worked with FPInnovations, Natural Resources Canada and scores of economic and scientific experts on the Bio-pathways study to examine the benefits of integrating new biotechnologies within the traditional forest products industry. The study concluded that producing bioenergy, biochemicals and biomaterials as well as traditional lumber and pulp and paper would both boost employment and strengthen Canada’s economy and rural communities. The key to the industry transformation is maximizing the value from every tree, by doing everything from producing solid wood to exploiting the hemicellulose and nanocrystalline cellulose and more, as well as extracting value from waste doomed for the landfill.
In addition, our analysis of the carbon footprint of products completed under the Bio-pathways study suggest that many of the emerging products, including bioenergy, can have neutral or even negative carbon footprints. That carbon footprint report is available on our FPAC website.
The Canadian forest industry is looking to the future with confidence thanks to the utilization of renewable biomass from forests while ensuring that sustainable forest management will help propel the sector towards growth and prosperity in the years ahead.
Mark Hubert is the Vice President of Environmental Leadership for the Forest Products Association of Canada. He is the former director of Sustainable Forest Management for FPAC and previously was an advisor with the British Columbia Ministry of Forest Economics and Trade. Mark has an operational forestry background in fire management and holds a degree in international relations from the University of British Columbia.
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