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UBC researchers have been developing and piloting advanced technologies related to the thermochemical conversion of biomass into bio-based energy.Supplied

“Waste not, want not” – the proverb can sum up the envisioned impact of a project that aims to turn forest biomass into renewable fuel, reduce the carbon footprint of lime kilns and advance technology solutions that can boost the reputation of B.C. as a leader in the cleantech bio-economy.

As part of the 2018 Clean BC strategy, the provincial government committed providing 15 per cent of distributed natural gas from renewable sources by 2030, and experts suggest that most of this demand can be met through thermochemical conversion of biomass, and specifically from forest biomass residues or waste.

“Through the BC Pulp & Paper BioAlliance, the B.C. pulp and paper industry has focused on four development themes – including renewable natural gas from biomass – that will build on our high-quality forest resource base and utilize our highly skilled workforce and valuable mill infrastructure to diversify into clean, sustainable bioproducts and markets,” says Bob Lindstrom of the BC BioAlliance, a regional innovation cluster that brings together B.C. pulp and paper companies, the University of British Columbia (UBC) and FPInnovations.

UBC researchers have been developing and piloting advanced technologies related to the thermochemical conversion of biomass into bio-based energy, and technologies exist at different levels of technical readiness, ranging from laboratory to small pilot plants.

Yet none of these platforms are currently operating successfully at a commercial scale, and the BC RNG project – led by UBC in partnership with BC Pulp & Paper Bio Alliance industry members and FPInnovations – aims to deliver a scalable solution for the production of renewable natural gas (RNG or syngas) from forest-based biomass.

The project addresses the priority for the B.C. pulp and paper industry to find a commercial use for surplus biomass and provide a renewable fuel source for pulp mill lime kilns. Mr. Lindstrom believes it would help to make the B.C. mills, where lime kiln operations are currently the largest greenhouse-gas emitters, close to carbon neutral.

To reach this goal, the project focuses on a pilot phase to test the available syngas technologies and adopt or adapt them for lime kiln application, followed by a scale-up phase that envisions the development of a commercial scale demonstration plant. Implementation of the technology in mills across the province can be aided by the fact that most of B.C. pulp mills already have facilities and procedures to receive and process large amounts of residual wood and necessary infrastructure for a syngas plant.

Resulting intellectual property presents export opportunities for Canadian companies that help develop and commercialize these solutions.

In working for decades in partnership with large and small industrial and government partners, UBC has laid the foundation for initiatives such as the BC RNG project by developing expertise, knowledge-sharing and supporting equipment and facilities, such as the Bioenergy Research and Demonstration Facility, Pulp and Paper Centre and the new Biorefining Research and Innovation Centre.


Produced by Randall Anthony Communications. The Globe’s Editorial Department was not involved in its creation.