A gasifier that converts wood to heat and electricity is headed for Yukon College, says the executive director of the Yukon Wood Products Association.
Myles Thorp told the Star this week he doesn’t have a lot of specifics.
However, he understands the unit was purchased in Finland.
It’s currently undergoing testing in Ottawa to ensure compliance with the Canadian Standards Association (CSA).
The purpose is to install the unit at the college to demonstrate how it can displace fossil fuels for heat while generating a portion of the college’s demand for electricity, Thorp said.
Gasification units work on the principle of superheating wood chips to create gas to power the generators while capturing and distributing the heat.
Dan Reams of Watson Lake and his son Jesse have established their business Biomass North Ltd.
They are quite familiar with the Volter unit purchased by the college as they are working toward becoming the Finnish company’s distributor in western Canada.
They have also developed a business proposal to heat government buildings in Watson Lake while generating electricity to sell back to the isolated grid owned and operated by ATCO Electric Yukon, he explained.
Watson Lake is currently powered by diesel generators.
The Volter unit purchased by the college arrived in Ottawa last fall. It’s expected to be here in the next couple of months, said Reams, a founding director of the wood products association.
The president of Biomass North explained the intent of testing the unit at the federal research lab is to confirm operational efficiencies and compliance with CSA requirements.
The unit cost approximately $300,000 and measures about eight feet high, four feet wide and about 17 to 18 feet long, he said.
Reams said back in 2014, he and his wife decided that if they were going to do something about promoting the use of biomass as a alternate and renewable form of energy, that they just had to start doing it.
They travelled to upper Austria, where the use of wood as an energy source is common-place, he said.
Reams said just as Yukoners expect to see trucks delivering home heating fuel or propane, they expect to see the wood pellet truck pull up to homes or the wood chip truck pull up to larger commercial facilities.
Wood, he said, has to be seen as more than fibre to make boards and plywood.
Its potential has to be recognized as more than just cord wood to throw into the wood stove for heat, he said.
At this time last year, when his son was in Whitehorse attending a forum on the potential of biomass as a renewable energy source, Reams was in Finland again meeting with representatives of Volter.
Reams said he and his son were both there last year attending Volter’s acadamy for training in the units’ operation and maintenance.
When he first met with the company on their initial trip to Europe in 2014, it had sold 10 units, but has now sold more than 100, he said.
Reams said when they put forward their business case to the Yukon government in 2016 about using biomass to heat government buildings while generating electricity for the local grid, the government put out a request for qualifications.
Biomass North responded, but hasn’t seen a request for proposals yet, he said.
Reams believes it’s time to embrace technologies that are out there and well-developed to reduce dependency on fossil fuels and cut back on greenhouse gas emissions in the Yukon.
He said he sees trees as stored solar energy.
Hypothetically, if Biomass North were to receive the go-ahead for its Watson Lake proposal by the end of this month, the company could have the system operational this fall, he said.
“If you don’t believe it can be done, I’ll help you plan a trip to Europe.”
Reams his company is not looking for any government money to support its business plan.
“Our personal feelings is that the long-term projects for a biomass industry in the Yukon are better if we have projects that have a business case that does not need or require government money to make them work,” he said.
Reams said the business case for a biomass system in Watson Lake is solid in a number of ways.
It creates employment for the supply of wood, he pointed out.
He said it generates the greatest amount of electricity in the coldest winter months, when the demand on the local grid is the highest.
When Yukon Energy fires up its diesel and natural gas generators to produce electricity, Reams said, efficiency is somewhere between 35 and 40 per cent.
When a gasification unit is used to create both heat and electricity, efficiencies can increase to between 80 and 90 per cent, he said.
Coincidentally, the group Yukoners Concerned About Oil and Gas Exploration/Development held a press conference this morning at the Raven Recycling Centre to talk about the need for action on the development of alternate energy for the Yukon.
There are many individual examples of renewable energy in the Yukon, whether it be solar panels on homes or the wood chip burner at Raven Recycling that has saved the non-profit organization huge money by cutting its heating bill, said Don Roberts of Yukoners Concerned.
Roberts said it’s time the government jump into the push for a new energy future in the Yukon.
There’s been lots of talk, but not much action, he said.
Meanwhile, the 2018 Research, Innovation and Commercialization workshop will take place Thursday and Friday in Whitehorse (see story).