Eyes on the North: Canada Ramps Up Bioenergy Activity

By Crystal Luxmore
When the 77-person Canadian delegation stepped off the plane in Sweden, they knew they were in bioenergy country. "The whole Arlanda airport is heated with biomass," says Paul Smallman, a woodlot owner from Prince Edward Island. Like many Canadian delegates on the trade mission to World Bioenergy 2008, the largest biomass conference in the world, Smallwood went to Sweden with a mission: to learn from the best, network and turn the experience into a viable renewable energy business back home. "The wood and forestry sector is going broke by relying on conventional markets," he says. "I want to set up a small pellet plant and use large wood-burning furnaces to make renewable heat and power and sell it to local people in [Prince Edward Island]. Scandinavians are leading the bioenergy industry, and I wanted to learn from the best."

The Canadian Bioenergy Association organized and led a 42-member trade mission from six of the country's 10 provinces. Another 35 independent Canadian delegates also attended the May event held in Jönköping, Sweden. Participants came from the across the bioenergy sector, including forest owners, biomass-rich communities, researchers and technology providers. Everyone was there for the same reason: to do business. "Our international colleagues knew we meant business when Canada brought the largest delegation to the World Bioenergy event," says CANBIO President Doug Bradley.

International partnerships offer some of the best opportunities for Canadian entrepreneurs and municipalities to develop bioenergy. Finnish, Swedish and Austrian technologies and consultancies have been building sustainable bioenergy chains for the past two decades, and Canada, with its vast supply of forest resources, is well positioned to take advantage.

Like its Scandinavian counterparts, Canada can utilize forest residues without competing with the pulp and paper industry. Currently 16 million metric tons (17.6 million tons) of excess tree bark sit in "heritage piles" in Canada. Heritage piles include biomass from historical mill waste piles and contain enough energy to provide the needs of close to 1 million Canadians. Another 11 million metric tons (12 million tons) per year of harvest waste is burned or left to rot. The pine beetle infestation in British Columbia has killed 450 million cubic meters (590 million cubic yards) of pine-six years worth of harvest at pre-infestation levels. Forecasters say that by 2013 approximately 80 percent of the province's mature pine could be affected. "We need to see this is a great opportunity to reduce emissions by turning the massive amounts of forest residue, much of which is sitting at roadside, into bioenergy," Bradley says.

World Bioenergy provided a lot of room to seed new business ventures. Alexandra Volkoff, the Canadian ambassador to Sweden, kicked off a popular Canada-Sweden side event that showcased Canada as a place for bioenergy business and partnering.

The conference's site visits were one of its biggest draws. Roland Kilpatrick, industrial technology advisor for the northeastern Ontario-based National Research Council, went on a full or half-day study tour each day of the five-day event. He says the field tours were a highlight, allowing him to see state-of-the-art wood pellets and chippers powering everything from a small farm, to the town of Mullsjö, which has three pellet boilers providing three megawatts of power and heat to 8,000 people. "We went to a school heated by a pellet boiler that sat in the schoolyard," Kilpatrick says. "It was so benign that you could see where the kids bounced their soccer balls on it."

He and other trade mission participants hope to bring some of the solutions they saw in Sweden back to Canada. Meeting prospective development partners from Canada, the United States and European Union on the trip also helps. "Traveling with 60 other Canadians helped me to find new synergies and build relationships that could turn into significant bioenergy projects at home," says Jamie Bakos, CEO of Titan Clean Energy Projects, a Saskatchewan-based biomass project developer.

"I talked to a lot of potential customers from Canada who are interested in switching from traditional forestry to biomass for energy or renewable products," says Luc Bernard of ALPA Equipment, a biomass machinery dealer in the Maritimes.

Bakos says he sees teaming up with either Canadian or Scandinavian business partners as the only way to ensure bioenergy takes off. "We need to look at bioenergy as a worldwide industry," he says. "We're up against a long-entrenched fossil fuel industry and chemical giants, and if we think of ourselves as independent competitors, we'll all lose.
We need to think of the biomass industry as one big market and work together to make impacts."

Doing Business Back Home
Canadian biomass industry stakeholders are using their lessons learned in Sweden and applying them to business and events at home. CANBIO's annual conference is organized around creating bioenergy business opportunities. "Bioenergy: From Words to Action," a two-day conference and one-day study tour, is taking place in Ottawa Oct. 6-8 and focuses on bringing together municipalities, entrepreneurs and corporations from around the world to develop new bioenergy projects. It's the biggest bioenergy event in central Canada and one of its main aims is finding package solutions for communities to exploit biomass for energy and strengthen their economies. A tradeshow will showcase the latest technologies from Finland, Austria, Canada, Ireland and other biomass equipment and project developers. On the last day, a one-day field tour will visit the world's longest-running fast pyrolyis plant, (a 100 metric ton/110 ton-per day facility in Renfrew, Ontario), a biomass cogeneration plant at Abitibi-Bowater's pulp mill in Gatineau and Les Broyeurs ā Bois harvest waste operation.

A look at recent biomass forestry projects in the Maritimes shows Canada's bioenergy scene is growing rapidly at the small-scale level. That's why CANBIO's annual conference is designed to help communities exploit these opportunities.

Like the rest of the heavily forested parts of the country, a lot of new small- to medium-scale projects are springing up in woody regions of Canada's Maritime provinces. Forestry communities are struggling in the face of a rising Canadian dollar and high energy prices, and stories of shutdowns are all too common. But some innovative companies and municipalities have integrated bioenergy into their processes, either as an energy resource or as bioenergy producers and they are profiting. Nova Scotia's Minas Basin Pulp and Power announced a new cogeneration plant that will need 165,000 metric tons (182,000 tons) of green biomass per year. Enligna, the new owners of the Martara pellet plant, have announced a plan to expand production, requiring an extra 100,000 to 200,000 metric tons (110,000 tons to 220,000 tons) of biomass per year. The collapse of Nova Scotia's lumber industry and resulting fall in sawmill residues has driven the New Page, Neenah and Abitibi-Bowater pulp mills to take up to 150,000 metric tons (165,000 tons) of round wood to make biomass fuel. In New Brunswick, Irving Paper is working to increase its consumption of biomass from harvesting debris across all its mills. All this action means the Maritimes are demanding new harvesting and production equipment. At least four industrial, horizontal grinders and chippers were purchased in the past 10 months and at least five more are expected in the next year.

Pellet plants are becoming commonplace in the Maritimes. Nova Scotia has three with at least three more under development and two new from major forestry companies. New Brunswick has three operating pellet plants, three under construction and close to a dozen plants being proposed. Prince Edward Island is about to join the ranks. Plans are underway for its first pellet plant.

Moving to the world stage, Canada will also have a louder voice thanks to its participation in the newly formed World Bioenergy Association (WBA), which was officially launched at World Bioenergy 2008. Bradley was appointed to the board for Canada.

Chaired by Kent Nyström, vice president of the EU Biomass Association, members include Canada, the United States, Australia, Japan, India, Brazil, Sweden and other EU countries.

The WBA was launched to be an organization for the bioenergy business on the global level. Having a global voice is important, especially as biofuels are receiving increasing public scrutiny. The WBA believes increasing the use of bioenergy is necessary to offer an alternative to high fossil fuel prices and slow climate change. It will also promote trade with biofuels and biomass, standardization of fuels, technical development and research, and monitor bioenergy potentials worldwide. WBA also plans to help to develop certifications systems to ensure that biofuels are produced in an environmentally friendly way and under acceptable working conditions.

"Having just returned from World Bioenergy in Sweden, I'm more excited than ever before about the future of bioenergy in Canada," Bradley says. Judging by the number of new projects and conferences springing up across the country, so is the rest of the industry.

Crystal Luxmore is public relations manager for Canadian Bioenergy Association. Reach her at canbio@gmail.com or (647) 239-5899. For more information on CANBIO, visit www.canbio.ca.