Exploiting British Columbia's Bioenergy Opportunities

Natural gas and oil are hot topics in the media these days, but many investors are turning to British Columbia's bioenergy riches as a province-wide source of new jobs and real economic growth.

By: Stephen Wu

GLOBE-Net, October 19, 2012 - Natural gas and oil are hot topics in the media these days, but many investors are turning to British Columbia's bioenergy riches as a province-wide source of new jobs and real economic growth.

So significant is BC's wealth in bio-energy resources that the Corporate Knights 2012 Green Provincial Report Card, ranks British Columbia as Number 1 in the Canada for leadership in clean energy.

Successful companies such as Pacific Bioenergy, which produces wood pellets, Nexterra, which produces biomas gasification systems, and Lignol Energy that is developing cellulosic ethanol biofuel solutions are leading the pack in developing bioenergy solutions at home market, but also for sale in foreign markets.

These companies are but a few of the more than 90 companies interviewed during a recent study by GLOBE Advisors on BC's "clean economy".

Research is the Key to Success

Research intensive institutions across the province have significantly invested in bioenergy research. Both the universities of British Columbia and Northern British Columbia have committed significant resources to enable faculty and students to gain critical skills and experience working on various bioenergy technologies.

For example, the University of British Columbia recently opened its doors to a Research and Demonstration Project which houses a made-in-BC Nexterra biomass gasification system and has the potential to generate enough clean electricity to power 1,500 homes, reduce the university's natural gas consumption by up to 12 per cent, and eliminate up to 4,500 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year.

The UBC facility will provide research and learning opportunities for faculty and students to gain valuable knowledge on clean energy technology and continue fostering a new generation of innovators to sustain BC's renewable energy sector.

Innovation for wood pellet research at the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC) is also helping industry by looking at the commercial viability and environmental benefits of utilizing biomass for energy.

This UNBC lead initiative is being developed in partnership with Western Economic Diversification and the Wood Pellet Association of Canada.

Research for wood pellets comes at a time where it is estimated that the BC wood pellet industry is expected to grow to $2 million in 2012, up from $1.2 million in 2011. With a continued growth in the export of wood pellets to markets such as Europe and Asia on the rise, more efficient and smarter ways to create a sustainable industry is critical and much of this requires a trained and skilled workforce.

GLOBE's research found that providing industry-relevant skills training and learning opportunities to engineers, technicians, and research scientists are critical to creating a sustainable future for developing the province's rich bioenergy opportunities.

Many of the technologies successfully commercialized here in BC have also found buyers abroad. The BC Bioenergy Network, a bioenergy industry catalyst, has successfully leveraged $78.2 million of partner investment from an initial $13.4 million to fund 24 bioenergy projects across the province. This not only provides solid opportunities for investors, but also creates plentiful economic, environmental, and social benefits for the entire province.

Companies such as Quadrogen, Diacarbon, Nexterra and others have sourced graduates from disciplines such as biochemical engineering, chemistry, biology, and forestry from post-secondary institutions across the province.

Rural Community Benefits from Bioenergy

While much of the innovation occurs in or near urban centers of the province such as in the Metro Vancouver, Victoria, and Prince George regions, British Columbia's bioenergy potential is endless and can support economic development opportunities across the province, including in more rural and remote communities.

In remote parts of the province, bioenergy solutions are being evaluated as a means of displacing off-grid diesel energy generation. This is particularly true in northern British Columbia where BC Hydro's Remote Electrification Program is providing support for some communities to use combined-heat and power systems to meet their energy needs. Some of these technologies deployed are designed and manufactured by BC technology providers and create well-paying jobs that remain in the province.

Communities in BC's Central Interior are also looking at ways to use clean energy as a rural economic development tool and transition traditional industry-based communities that have been ravaged by the pine beetle epidemic.

While the pine beetle epidemic as created significant hardship to the province's forestry industry, many BC companies are using waste wood material to be used in wood pellets and feedstock for biomass-to-energy combined heat and power systems.

According to GLOBE's research, many of these forestry-based communities have the fundamental skills to take on bioenergy and other renewable energy-related projects. These opportunities range from wood-cutting and preparation to facility operations, maintenance, and technical support.

Other bioenergy opportunities exist as well in the province especially within the province's agricultural industry. The BC Ministry of Agriculture recently announced over $280,000 in investment for two new waste-to-energy and biofuel projects from agricultural waste and reclaimed wood materials. The finding will be distributed between Diacarbon Energy and GreenScene Agritek with this initiative expecting to create new or additional revenue for BC farmers.

Additional initiatives such as the BC Agriculture Research and Development Corporation's "Cow Power" program, which is a premium pricing support mechanism that will support farmers to turn animal and food waste into clean electricity using anaerobic digestion technologies.

This program also helps farmers develop an understanding of the environmental benefits while being able to immediately reap the financial rewards of BC bioenergy innovation.

The Road Ahead

Continued development of BC's bioenergy opportunities will require careful planning and leadership from both public and private sector stakeholders.

The GLOBE Advisors report recommends the following enablers to accelerate further clean energy opportunities in the British Columbia:

- A clear and stable policy framework;
- Pursuit of clean energy and emissions planning (CEEP);
- Increased partnerships and collaboration;
- Greater export support & capacity building for trade;
- Level playing field with fossil fuel energy sources;
- A focus on increasing productivity; and
- Promotion of knowledge transfer.

British Columbia's bioenergy opportunities are truly plentiful and provide many tangible environmental, social, and economic benefits. With world-class bioenergy research being conducted at leading research institutions, this homegrown innovation is fueling economic development, investment and job creation even in rural BC and creating a cleaner future for generations to come.

To learn more about the bioenergy and other clean energy opportunities in British Columbia, including energy storage, smart grids, transmission, click here.

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