Canadian Biomass Magazine

What a Waste!

April 1, 2011
By Heather Hager

Wood biomass doesn’t just come from forestry operations.

Wood biomass doesn’t just come from forestry operations. There’s huge potential for local or regional biomass opportunities in cities and municipalities from recovering wood that’s tossed away during construction, demolition, and home renovations. So far, however, we’ve taken very little advantage of this abundant resource.

Some might think there’s little use for this recovered wood fibre, but that’s not the case. This is evident from my recent visit to two wood recovery operations, one of which I cover in this issue on page 12, as well as Canadian Biomass’ previous coverage of a Quebec facility (Demolition Power, Nov/Dec 2009). All three facilities serve different biomass markets with slightly different products.

One facility receives two wood streams: clean wood, and wood that is mixed with materials such as plastics, steel, aluminium, and drywall. The clean wood goes to markets that require a strictly 100% wood product, for example, natural landscape mulch, animal bedding, composting, or oilfield/brownfield remediation. The mixed material is sorted, and the wood goes to electricity generation for the provincial grid. Another facility has a single clean wood stream that supplies a large market in coloured landscape mulch and feeds an on-site biomass boiler. Yet another facility has a mixed wood stream that is sorted to supply a pulp and paper plant’s electricity production. Soon, this type of material will also be used to produce cellulosic ethanol and other chemicals, with a facility for that purpose currently under construction in Edmonton.

In Europe, a number of utilities have been using recovered, mixed wood streams for electricity production for some time. Some are even importing this kind of biomass from nearby countries to meet their fuel demands.


Just how much of this material is going to waste in Canada? According to a Statistics Canada waste management industry survey report, more than 17.3 million tonnes of non-residential waste was sent for disposal in 2008. That includes waste from manufacturing, commercial operations,and institutional facilities, as well as construction, renovation, and demolition materials. “Surveys have indicated that as much as one-third (of municipal solid waste) is generated by construction, renovation, and demolition activities,” says Public Works and Government Services Canada’s The Environmentally Responsible Construction and Renovation Handbook. By my rough calculation, that means there’s about 5.7 million tonnes of construction, demolition, and renovation material that could be sorted and reused, remanufactured, or recycled!

Statistics Canada says that a mere 720,076 tonnes of construction, demolition, and renovation material was diverted from landfill in 2008, with Quebec, Ontario, and British Columbia diverting close to 200,000 tonnes each. So by my calculation, only 12.5% of this material is processed, leaving a whopping 87.5% (5 million tonnes!) going straight to landfill. Exactly how much of this tonnage is wood isn’t clear. But it’s enough to represent a huge opportunity for a large number of new enterprises, not only to get into the biomass business, but to extend the life of our rapidly filling landfills.

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