Working towards a low-carbon future

Tamar Atik
November 27, 2017
Written by
Travis Robinson, Bioenergy Program, CanmetENERGY-Ottawa discussing lessons learned at Bioenergy for the Future conference in Ottawa.
Travis Robinson, Bioenergy Program, CanmetENERGY-Ottawa discussing lessons learned at Bioenergy for the Future conference in Ottawa.
Nov. 27, 2017 - “It’s clear we’re at the threshold of the bio-age,” Kim Rudd, parliamentary secretary to the minister of natural resources, tells the crowd at an industry event held in Ottawa today.

Industry members attended Natural Resource Canada's Bioenergy for the Future conference at the Fairmont Chateau Laurier to learn more about the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) most recent publication, Technology Roadmap: How2Guide for Bioenergy. The IEA has stated the publication is a resource to plan and implement new bioenergy strategies, or improve existing one. “for both planning and implementing new bioenergy strategies, or to improve existing ones.

NRCan has stated the roadmap provides modelling and scenario analysis confirming that bioenergy can make a significant contribution to the carbon savings required to address climate change.

Canada has more biomass per capita than any other country in the world. Bio-energy is also Canada’s second largest source of renewable energy.

Fernado Preto, a research scientist with CanmetENERGY-Ottawa, NRCan, hosted the day’s sessions. “Today was about starting the discussion on how we can scale up bioenergy, biofuels, and actually the whole bioeconomy so that we can move to commercial-sized installations. Basically, moving things from research and development all the way to commercialization and how government, industry and academia can work together to do that,” Preto explained.

“There have been marginal improvements,” he said. “What can we learn from things that haven’t worked? Companies that have tried to scale up and haven’t been able to, what can we learn from their examples?

“I think the take-home message is the role of the IEA bioenergy roadmap. The IEA studies global energy trends and outlook and the rollout of the roadmap basically highlights the importance of bioenergy,” Preto said. The roadmap lays out some of the steps to achieve this bioenergy goal, including more international collaboration, he said.

Other sessions in the day included NRCan’s Frank Des Rosiers, IEA’s Paolo Frankl and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Jim Spaeth who outlined the IEA’s goals and objectives.

Des Rosiers talked about the Government of Canada’s 30 by 30 goal, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) by 30 per cent by 2030.

Frankl said the potential of clean energy technology remains underutilized. Bioenergy can only be a major part of a low-carbon energy system if it is deployed sustainably, he said.

Spaeth said the IEA has been increasing its communications, including co-operation with other international organizations in order to reach the low-carbon goal.

IEA’s Adam Brown discussed the bioenergy roadmap in further detail. The idea of the roadmap is to say “where we are today, where we need to go, and what we need to do to get there,” as an industry, he said.

Brown outlined four key actions:

1.)   Promote short-term deployment of mature options;

2.)   Stimulate the development and deployment of new technologies;

3.)   Deliver the necessary feedstock sustainably, backed by a supportive sustainability governance system;

4.)   And the need to develop capacity and catalyze investment via international collaboration.

Brown said a stable policy environment is vital for all of these bioeconomy initiatives to work. The ideal policy landscape requires a level playing field, a low-risk investment climate and catalyzing and supporting innovation, he said.

The afternoon led with a presentation on forest bioenergy in Canada by NRCan’s Anne-Hélène Mathey. That was followed by NRCan’s Dean Haslip’s Mission Innovation: Sustainable Biofuels Innovation Challenge (SBIC) presentation, which tied with Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Paulo Thiago Pires Soares’ Biofuture Platform on the Bioeconomy session.

An industry panel titled What are the biofuel challenges for industry? offered perspectives from Advanced Biofuels Canada’s Doug Hooper, Arcelor Mittal Dofasco’s Ted Todoschuk, the Canadian Gas Association’s Paul Cheliak, and LafargeHolcim’s Robert Cumming. It was moderated by FPInnovations’ Douglas Singbeil.

Enerkem’s Marie-Helene Labrie presented on the company’s success scaling up its municipal waste-to-energy technology.

Enerkem’s approach was successful because it focused on municipal solid waste as the feedstock from the outset, Labrie said. The company then worked to leverage commercially available catalysts to reach its goal.

Enerkem wants waste to be seen as a resource to make sustainable products.

REAP Canada’s Roger Samson spoke about the large-scale production and supply of biological feedstocks.

Preto and Travis Robinson, from the Bioenergy Program, CanmetENERGY-Ottawa shared lessons learned in scaling up biofuels technologies.

To really scale up, the industry is going to have to delve deeper into cellulosic feedstocks, Robinson said.

On Enerkem’s success, Robinson said, “They’ve done just about anything they could do right. Now they’re reaping the rewards of that tenacity.

“If all the bioenergy companies out there were like Enerkem, things would be very easy,” he said. “We’d probably have a lot more bio-products on the market today.”

Any successful scaling-up story had issues first that were overcome in order to reach that success, Robinson said.

Biomass feeding and handling issues like clogging and clumping because of particle size distribution and humidity are difficult to contain and require close attention to the feeding system, Robinson said. “It’s very important that you get a handle on this early on so you can start collecting the data to come up with solutions that you’re going to need as you continue scaling up,” he said.

Biomass fuel transportation and storage are other issues, mainly for large-scale projects. A 1,000 tonne/day facility would handle roughly 1,000 individual truck loads per month.  

photo1 Weather and safety issues related to off-gassing or dust are also problems, as well as production of carbon monoxide, which has caused deaths in the past.

“It’s important not to skip steps, especially with biomass,” Robinson said. Take the time to fulfill requirements and follow through on the demonstration phase with as much money as is needed, he said. Not doing so will raise red flags.

“If we’re going to meet our Paris climate change commitments, biomass and bioenergy have to play a key role,” Preto said. “We need to start doing that sooner rather than later because if we’re going to get a reduction in carbon dioxide then using bioenergy is one of the ways to do it.”

The conference took place ahead of Scaling Up 2017, which officially begins tomorrow.


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