Report explores role of wood pellets, biomass cofiring in Canada

By Anna Simet | August 09, 2012

There is significant opportunity for the Canadian wood pellet industry to participate from the ground floor if Canada’s power industry evolves away from coal, but there are some hurdles to overcome, according to a new report released by the Wood Pellet Association of Canada.  

Those hurdles include the fact that the Canadian power market is closely integrated with that of the U.S. “This means that the transformation of the power industry in Canada cannot occur in isolation,” the report says. “Since the U.S. does not have a firm policy in place, the question is how firm the Canadian policy really is.”

The Canadian government has proposed regulations to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions from coal-burning power plants, and that’s sparked intense activity in the electricity generation sector in Canada to find ways to reduced emissions, mainly CO2, which constitutes about 98 percent of the stack emissions for coal burning, according to the report. The proposed regulation comes into force for new power projects on January 1, 2013, and applies to older plants on July 1, 2015.

Canada currently has 21 coal-burning power plants with a total of 53 units in operation, 60 percent of which will reach the end of their useful life by 2025. Each currently has three options, the report points out, which are conversion to natural gas, installing carbon capture and storage (CCS), or cofiring with biomass.

Several studies conclude that CCS is going to be uneconomical in the short and medium term, and cofiring appears to be an optimum solution for many of the power plants, provided biomass feedstock can be sourced in sufficient quantities. “However, to the extent a power plant has access to a gas pipeline, natural gas may be an option,” the report says. “Building new pipelines is in many cases cost-prohibitive.”

Among several, one conclusion of the report is that there is clear opportunity for the Canadian pellet industry to become a major supplier of renewable fuel to Canadian power producers. However, close coordination will be required between pellets producers, power producers, and the government to make sure the fiber supply and infrastructure is in place for the potentially very large demand for biofuels.

The report, which compares conversion options and includes information on different methods of cofiring, torrefaction and Canadian biomass supply, can be accessed here.