Solid Waste & Recycling


A Look at "Bioenergy"

Tougher environmental legislation and higher costs for solid waste disposal energy are of concern to municipalities. These factors have made the utilization of "bioenergy" an interesting option to assist in waste diversion, reduced energy costs an...

Tougher environmental legislation and higher costs for solid waste disposal energy are of concern to municipalities. These factors have made the utilization of “bioenergy” an interesting option to assist in waste diversion, reduced energy costs and help in meeting Canada’s commitment to the Kyoto protocol.

What is bioenergy? The term refers to the utilization of organic matter that’s available on a recoverable basis to produce electricity, steam or heat. The feedstock material used in bioenergy production can be derived from energy-dedicated crops and trees, agricultural crop wastes and residues, wood waste, aquatic plants and animal wastes (i.e., pig manure). It should be noted that all fossil fuels are derived from biomass, it just took millions of years and a lot of pressure to produce!

The bioenergy market in Canada is in its infancy compared to many other countries, especially those in Europe. Canada is blessed with an abundant source of biomass material but low energy prices and modest environmental legislation have kept the market from developing further.

In a 2002 report, Natural Resources Canada estimated that bioenergy provides six percent of primary energy in the country, the second most important source of renewable energy after hydroelectricity. A major application is the combustion of waste materials from the forest products and pulp and paper industries to generate electricity, steam, and heat for their own use. Major opportunities in Canada still remain for the utilization of organic waste and municipal solid waste as well as agricultural and tree residues.

In Europe, the bioenergy market is growing rapidly, mainly the result the high fuel costs, renewable energy targets set by government and the drive to reduce greenhouse gases. As a result, expertise has developed in Europe that’s being exported around the world, including Canada.

Biomass Technology Group

Biomass Technology Group (BTG) from the Netherlands is one such company that has developed technical expertise in bioenergy and is exporting its know-how around the world. The company has facilitated the construction of more than 50 plants worldwide and established more than 15 spin-off companies and subsidiaries.

When asked why BTG choose Canada as an export market for its bioenergy expertise, Ren Venendaal, managing director for BTG responded, “We came to Canada because of the abundant biomass resources that are not currently utilized. With the rise in energy costs and drive to reduce greenhouse gases, bioenergy projects are now feasible in Canada.”

BTG recently completed a study for the David Suzuki Foundation on ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the province of Ontario. The report concludes that technology and resources exist to provide a significant percentage of Canadian energy demands and that the demand can be met without impacting on the production of food or traditional products. BTG estimates that the potential energy from biomass in the province is 2,340 megawatts by 2020. The estimated cost of implementing bioenergy projects to achieve this output is estimated at $4 billion. As a comparison, the retrofit of the Pickering Nuclear facility that will bring 2,000 MW of electricity back online will cost an estimated $2 billion.

Municipalities contemplating bioenergy should first perform a feasibility study. Implementation of a project in a municipality may be eligible for one of several sources of funding. For example, the Green Municipal Enabling Fund (GMEF) established by the federal government offers grants up to $350,000 for cost-shared planning initiatives, feasibility studies and field tests.

Alberta municipalities that implement bioenergy projects have access to the municipal energy efficiency assistance program established by the Government of Alberta. The program provides interest free loans to municipalities that achieve energy savings, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and replace conventional energy sources with renewable or alternative energy sources.

Revelstoke, B.C.

The City of Revelstoke, British Columbia provides an example of a municipality that will implement a bioenergy project with the assistance of funding. In August 2004, Revelstoke Community Energy Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of the City of Revelstoke, will begin construction of a heating plant that will burn up to 6,000 tonnes of wood waste annually. The plant will supply heat to several nearby community buildings. The project will replace current practice of merely burning the wood waste and will replace the existing boiler system fueled by propane.

The total cost of the Revelstoke project is estimated at $5 million of which $2.7 million is provided by the Green Municipal Funds in the form of a combined loan and grant.

Taking advantage of funding to implement a bioenergy project is a win-win proposition for a municipality. It eliminates a waste issue and supports sustainable development. The potential is enormous for such projects in the waste business.

John Nicholson is a management consultant with Environmental Business Consultants based in Toronto, Ontario. E-mail John at

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