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Canadian bioenergy industry goes global

Trade mission to World Bioenergy 2008 opens doors for the growth of Canada’s bioenergy business

When the 77-strong Canadian delegation stepped off the plane in Sweden, they knew they were in bioenergy country. “The whole Arlanda airport is heated with biomass,” said Paul Smallman, a woodlot owner from Prince Edward Island. Like many Canadian delegates on the trade mission to World Bioenergy 2008, the biggest biomass conference in the world, Smallman went to Sweden with a mission: to learn from the best, network and turn the experience into a viable renewable energy business back home.


July 24, 2008
July 24, 2008
By Crystal Luxmore

“The wood and forestry sector is going broke by relying on conventional markets,” he said. “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 PEI.  Scandinavians are leading the bioenergy industry, and I wanted to learn from the best.”

“Our international colleagues knew we meant business when Canada brought the largest delegation to the World Bioenergy event,” said Doug Bradley, president of the Canadian Bioenergy Association (CANBIO), which organized the trade mission. Held in Jönköping, Sweden earlier this summer, CANBIO led a trade mission of 42 participants from six of the country’s ten provinces and another 35 delegates came independently.  Participants came from the across the bioenergy sector, including forest owners, biomass rich communities, researchers and technology providers.  But everyone was there for the same reason: to do business.

Big biz for municipalities
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 last two decades, and Canada ― with its vast supply of forest resources ― is well positioned to take advantage.  

Like its Scandinavian counterparts, Canada can use forest residues without competing with the pulp and paper industry. Right now, there are 16 million tonnes of excess tree bark sitting in “heritage piles” in Canada: enough energy to provide the needs of close to one million Canadians. And another 11 million tonnes of harvest waste is burned or left to rot. The pine beetle infestation in British Columbia has killed 450 million cubic metres of pine — six years’ worth of harvest at pre-infestation levels. Forecasters say that by 2013 some 80 per cent of the province’s mature pine could be affected. “We need to see this as a great opportunity to reduce emissions by turning the massive amounts of forest residue, much of which is sitting at roadside, into bioenergy,” said Bradley.  

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And 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 National Research Council, went on a full or half-day study tour each day of the five-day event. Kilpatrick, who moved to Northeastern Ontario five years ago, sees potential to shift its struggling forestry to a more profitable bio-based economy. The field tours were a highlight for him – 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 a three pellet boilers at three megawatts providing heating to 8,000 people. “We went to a school heated by a pellet boiler that sat in the schoolyard – it was so benign that you could see where the kids bounced their soccer balls on it,” said Kilpatrick.

He and other trade mission participants hope to bring some of the solutions they saw in Sweden back to Canada.  Meeting prospective development partners on the trip will help with their task. “I heard talk of prospective development of large-scale projects with offshore partners, and a myriad of smaller-scale heat and power projects across the country – so keep your ears peeled for announcements,” said Bradley.  

Delegates said some of the most promising business ventures happened between fellow Canadians. “Travelling with sixty other Canadians helped me to find new synergies and build relationships that could turn into significant bioenergy projects at home,” said 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,” said Luc Bernard of ALPA Equipment, a biomass machinery dealer in the Maritimes.

Bakos 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.  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
The Canadian Bioenergy Association’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, October 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 to find package solutions for communities to exploit biomass for energy and strengthen their economies. A trade show 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 tonne-per day facility in Renfrew, Ontario), a biomass co-generation plant at Abitibi-Bowater’s pulp mill in Gatineau and Les Broyeurs à 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, which is 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 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 tonnes 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 tonnes 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 tonnes of round wood to make biomass fuel. In New Brunswick, Irving Paper is working to up their 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 last ten months and at least five more will are expected in the next year.

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

And 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 the World Bioenergy event. Doug Bradley was appointed to the Board for Canada.

Chaired by Kent Nyström, vice president of the EU Biomass Association, members include Canada, the U.S., 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 increasingly under 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,” said Doug Bradley.  And judging by the number of new projects and conferences springing up across the country―so is the rest of the industry

Crystal Luxmore is PR manager for the Canadian Bioenergy Association (CANBIO) and a freelance writer in Toronto. For more information on CANBIO, visit www.canbio.ca.


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