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Bioenergy conference explores opportunities for biomass

A session on transforming the forest industry highlighted the first day of the Bio Energy Exhibition and Conference 2015, which took place on May 20 and 21 in Toronto.

May 22, 2015  By Pulp & Paper Canada

A session on transforming the forest industry highlighted the first day of the Bio Energy Exhibition and Conference 2015, which took place on May 20 and 21 in Toronto.

The panel session, “Transforming the forest industry: The future of energy and bioproducts,” featured presentations by FutureMetrics president and founder William Strauss; Brent Boyko, director, Biomass BD, with Ontario Power Generation (OPG); Robert Cormier, founder and CEO for R&B Cormier/Terrafact; and Faye Johnson, director of forest tenure and economics branch at the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.

Boyko kicked off the panel session by discussing OPG’s 220 MW Atikokan generating station, which is fuelled by white pellets, and the160 MW, coal-to-biomass conversion, generating station in Thunder Bay, which came online in January 2015. The Atikokan GS entered commercial operation in July 2014.


He said that OPG decided to convert the two former coal plants to biomass to make use of existing generating stations owned by the province and because conversion of the plants cost less than a new build.

“The wood pellet pathway for Atikokan was really driven by the fact that we’re in the north, we’re surrounded by forests, we’ve got a lot of residuals, and it really makes sense from a community and a regional standpoint,” he said.

To the best of OPG’s knowledge, the Thunder Bay Unit 3 plant is the world’s first coal-to-biomass conversion using advanced wood pellets. Boyko said there was a desire to be able to treat the biomass material like coal.

“You have to put it outside. It’s going to get rained on. It’s going to get snowed on. It’s probably going to freeze on you… we wanted coal-like properties to reduce the capital cost of the conversion. What we’re looking for is long-term stability of the woody biomass… this is very much an emerging fuel.”

Cormier discussed the availability of forest resources in North America, and how there are additional sources of forest biomass going unused.

His company, R&B Cormier Inc., is one of seven contractors approved by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry for developing the latest round of enhanced forest resource inventory (FRI) for more than 500,000 sq. km. of land in Ontario.

Cormier explained that Ontario’s existing FRI is designed for forest management planning and is primarily for the traditional forest industry – pulp and paper, and lumber – not for all available biomass.

He said there are several non-FRI biomass harvesting opportunities, including harvest waste, heritage waste, non-commercial species, dead standing trees and competing vegetation.

Strauss offered the crowd an overview of the pellets market, including a discussion on the top end-users for wood pellets for power (U.K.) and for heating (Italy), as well as a presentation on the opportunities available in the wood pellet market for co-firing in coal plants.

“The generation company that co-fires wood pellets with coal to achieve a 10% reduction in CO2, will increase its cost of production by less than one penny per kWh,” said Strauss.

Other highlights from the conference included presentations on building strategic partnerships, governmental challenges in bio-based energy development, and successful biofuel ventures. The event included a small trade show. One keynote address by Tom Rand, author of Kick the Fossil Fuel Habit and Waking the Frog, focused on climate change and the role of clean energy. A second keynote by industry analyst Don Roberts discussed key considerations for those looking to invest, or seeking investment, in a bio-based technology.

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