Blog Post: Discovering Untapped Potential
We often think of garbage and waste as synonyms, but why does this have to be? “Waste” is often thought of as something that is useless, but perhaps we should be seeing garbage more as a resource? There are a number of good arguments to be made for thinking in this manner. In addition to the obvious environmental concerns and costs associated with disposal of any kind of waste, but there's also a massive lost economic opportunity if we don't. Let's look at a few examples of Bio Waste streams and how they are being used all over the world. For example here in Canada waste wood products, plants, natural excrements, landfill gases and alcohol fuels are all energy sources that can be used for the creation of biomass energy, and this biomass energy can in turn be used to generate either electricity or heat.
In Canada, one producer of such energy is the Plasco Energy Group (1), whose “nothing wasted” approach sees garbage that cannot be recycled being converted into clean energy. This process of creating biomass energy significantly reduces the emission of carbon dioxides, and communities that produce waste can produce its own energy, creating a sustainable waste elimination an example of a system which could be used to create energy self-sufficiency in small remote communities, numerous economic benefits, and long term stable job opportunities. An Australian company; Anaeco, gets the massive financial opportunity estimating that the global Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) market to be around $400 Billion dollars. Their DiCOM™ advanced waste treatment solution is used to treat municipal solid waste (MSW), "diverting up to 90% from landfill, and produces renewable energy from biogas, and organic fertilizer".
Back in Canada events like the 3rd Canadian German Conference on Bioenergy which took place on the 5th of September, 2012 further highlight the international scope of seeing waste as a resource. The goal of the conference was to create and strengthen ties between Canada and Germany in the field of Bioenergy. Various German companies presented their technology and research on the subject. BTS-Biogas was one such company, whose expertise lies in the planning, production, and construction of biogas plants. In short, the BTS-Biogas plants produce a supply of clean energy from renewable resources (biogas), an organic waste disposal system, and a by-production of digestates which can be used as high quality fertilizer. This is achieved by the inputs of processed residual waste from livestock, food production, and effluents from industrial and municipal wastewater treatment plants (6). It’s not difficult to see how BTS-Biogas, Plasco Energy Group, and Anaeco are all leading examples of triple bottom line sustainable thinking.
The 2012 CanBio Annual Conference, that took place on the 27th and 28th of November in Vancouver, BC demonstrated the astounding potential for bioenergy in Canada (2). With the abundance of biomass in the Great White North, aided by the growing demand for dependable renewable sources of energy, it’s easy to see how biomass could be that “next big thing”. Denmark and Sweden are amongst the world leaders in renewable energy with Denmark providing up to 60% of its space and water heating demand with district energy, and Sweden meeting their domestic energy needs using biomass more than any other energy source. In fact, 45% of annual felling is used for energy production in Sweden compared to the 36% for pulp and paper, and 20% for lumber. Forestry in Sweden has become an energy focused business (2). The wealth of these nations and their commitment to renewable energy appear to testify to the capabilities of biomass as an efficient alternate source of energy.
Canada may not be at the same level as these countries in Scandinavia, but with our vast Bioenergy resources its anyone’s guess why we're not world leaders in developing and commercializing this technology here at home, and for export abroad. The province of British Columbia holds a rich abundance of forests of up to 60million hectares, nearly two thirds of its entire land mass (3). The potential for biomass can be seen in the abundance of lumber in itself. When you consider the fact that there is declining saw log availability in the area due to the Mountain Pine Beetle Epidemic (MPB) and a growing accessibility to low-quality fiber that is only suitable for bioenergy (and other bio-products), its logical to see biomass energy as a prime future industry in the Province (2).
The University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC) is a testament for how such an industry could arise in British Columbia. With two of it’s own bioenergy plants, UNBC boasts a district heating system that heats the Prince George Campus using biomass; the first University ever to do so in Canada. The results? An offset of about 85% of previous fossil fuel consumption for campus heating, with carbon neutrality, and a switch from an annual consumption of 63,640 GJ of fossil fuel to clean renewable energy. The cost of acquiring the biomass (UNBC uses sawmill residue) is 35% of natural gas (4). UNBC’s efforts have paved a way for a multitude of educational and research opportunities that are essential for the future of forest-based communities.
How do we turn this opportunity into reality? Well if you're already in the game and looking for funding a great place to start might be SDTC. They have a new 16-week program called the Canadian Technology Accelerator (CTA) Initiative is being launched by the Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada’s (DFAIT) Trade Commissioner Service. Aimed at small to mid-sized Canadian companies, those that want to join the program, starting in March 2013, must meet the CTA CleanTech criteria whose subsectors include: energy/water data, analysis, management and control, clean energy, consumer engagement, smart grid, and cleaner transportation. With opportunities to apply for the programs in New York City or the Silicon Valley Track, successful applicants will have accessibility to unique resources and business contacts to stimulate growth. Initiatives like these are just what we need to foster new approaches to energy, but interested organizations must be quick to act as the application deadline is January 31st 2013(5).
As the population on our planet grows so will our energy needs. Bioenergy is one way to help us meet those demands by rethinking and rediscovering our untapped energy potential. The next hundred years of innovation will undoubtedly create a myriad of opportunities for recreating healthier long term societies, economies, and environments that benefit everyone.
(2) CanBio, BioEnergy Now (Fall 2012)