Whitehorse Daily Star

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Right: PROBING THE QUESTION – Marc Albert, an electrical engineer, is studying the practicality of generating electricity with domestic wood stoves. He is seen at the biomass conference. Left: RYAN HENNESSEY Centre: MYLES THORP

Biomass energy can be made simple and easy

Moving into the area of biomass energy doesn’t need to be a bewildering experience, a small audience of some 35 heard Tuesday at the Biomass Energy Forum.

By Chuck Tobin on March 16, 2016

Moving into the area of biomass energy doesn’t need to be a bewildering experience, a small audience of some 35 heard Tuesday at the Biomass Energy Forum.

They heard how the Kluane First Nation is already using wood to provide district heating for some of its government buildings, creating substantial savings on heating fuel and dramatically reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

And the First Nation wants to expand its district heating, and possibly begin using wood biomass to generate electricity for the isolated grid that supplies Burwash Landing and Destruction Bay.

Dan Reams of Watson Lake is currently in Finland looking at what sort of wood gasification unit would be appropriate to heat a couple of government buildings in the community while generating electricity to sell back to ATCO Electric Yukon.

Jessie Reams, his son, was attending the forum.

Ryan Hennessey of the Yukon government’s energy branch said the government is committed to installing biomass systems in two government buildings in the next year.

The technology to provide district heating and generate electricity using wood is readily available, the audience heard.

It also heard biomass systems need champions, someone to push for them, someone to ensure they’re maintained, because they are technical, complicated and simple at the same time but do require maintenance.

The audience heard how a teacher in Tok, Alaska pushed for a biomass heating system using wood chips produced from local trees.

The teacher moved on after the $800,000 system was installed, but before it was operational, and it just sat there idle.

But the teacher is returning.

It is of the utmost importance to ensure any biomass systems fit the specific needs of the community, and that there is the skilled workforce to install and service the specialized equipment, said one audience member who spent eight years working in the industry in Finland.

He said it’s one thing to have a system go wonky at a college or university where there is the technical expertise to analyze and repair problems. It’s a different story for remote and isolated communities where help could be days away, he said.

Forum moderator Myles Thorp said when he was with the government’s forestry branch in 2008 before retiring, they looked into why the interest in biomass systems seemed to have stalled in the Yukon.

He said what they found was lingering resentment for a couple of biomass projects that failed here early the 1980s; the system for the Yukon College, Elijah Smith Elementary School and the Elijah Smith Federal Building.

Concerns with domestic wood smoke in Riverdale back then didn’t help, nor did the war in the woods through the 1980s and ’90s over commercial timber harvesting in B.C., a fight that seemed to spill into the Yukon, he said.

Tuesday’s audience heard how the stars are starting to line up, particularly since the government adopted its own Forest Resources Act in 2011.

The act leaves behind the old federal way of doing business and is providing the foundation to negotiate forest management plans with communities, to determine where logging should and should not occur, and what the total harvest in an area should be.

The government has just released its Yukon Biomass Energy Strategy last month, it was pointed out.

Colin Asselstine, general manager of the Kluane Community Development Corp., said the abundance of beetle- and fire-killed wood in the Kluane region is huge.

A study put the sustainable annual harvest at 100,000 cubic metres – 27,600 cords – Asselstine pointed out.

The existing district heating system that has been warming four Kluane First Nation buildings since 1998 burns an average of 40 cords per year, and tops at 60, he added.

Those attending the biomass workshop at the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre have heard speakers discuss everything from the most recent and sophisticated technology to the use of wood biomass during the Second World War to power vehicles.

There were about one million vehicles – cars, trucks, farm tractors, school buses – powered by wood gasification units attached to the vehicles during the war, because gas and diesel fuel was rationed, if not unavailable altogether, the audience heard.

They heard how the new Austrian biomass boiler installed at the Raven Recycling Centre, now in its sixth day of operation, is burning waste wood, mostly pallets. It will reduce requirements for heating fuel by 30,000 to 40,000 litres a year.

One speaker this morning told the audience how he’s currently researching whether it’s viable to produce electricity from the heat off of domestic wood stoves.

It’s possible, because all you need to produce electricity is one piece of hot metal and one piece of cold metal to create an electrical current between the two, Marc Albert, an electrical engineer, told the audience.

Whether it’s practical to generate electricity with domestic wood stoves is the question he is pursuing, with the assistance of funding from the Yukon Research Centre and its Cold Climate Innovation department, he said.

There’s no way a woodstove would provide enough power for the average home. But for homes with more modest requirements, it could make a noticeable contribution, Albert told the audience.

He said a woodstove generating system might also be a nice fit to augment wind and solar systems.

The forum was scheduled to wrap up this afternoon, but not before a panel discussion on the availability of Yukon wood to sustain a biomass energy sector.

Comments (9)

Up 9 Down 2

nobodiesfool on Mar 20, 2016 at 8:06 pm

All this from a Government that couldn't run a feed system into the massive biomass gasification boiler that sat dormant at the college for some 20 years before quietly being removed just a year ago or so. They were unable to keep a system going downtown to feed a handful of buildings. The one that's currently in use at the jail barely operates and will only work when the temp drops to -10c. Boondoggle after boondoggle. Talk is cheap but O&M isn't so unless there is an honest commitment to do this then please stop blowing smoke.

Up 7 Down 6

Josey Wales on Mar 19, 2016 at 7:55 am

Waste wood eh? Yes feels great to be green eh?
Anyone out there in feelgoodland ponder this....
With this interest in using said product, there is a hidden danger.
Huh? Once the process is honed, then all "wood" pieces are now a commodity.
Despite the HUGE swath of beetle kill west of us, been a crusade to rid us "regular" folk from using wood raw (logs) via nanny staters, insurance overlords, greenie zealots etc.
Good luck at gaining access to the bush in the future when the folks figure it all out.
Kinda like the grandfather of grunge, the Gandolph if you will of progressives Mr. Neil Young and his quest for corn to gasoline.
Once they figure that out to "profit" from, good luck at ever eating a nice cob laced with butter.
We need a furnace that runs on love and happy thoughts, a few decades of programming MORE might hone that too?
Or one that runs on "studies" and consultant reports?

Up 16 Down 0

north_of_60 on Mar 17, 2016 at 6:29 pm

It's good that the new rough chip system at Raven appears successful. Previous attempts the make wood chips work were hobbled by chip feed systems that jammed and broke with rough splintered chips. Waste wood is one of our most sustainable undeveloped energy resources. We should be using it more effectively.

Up 9 Down 2

UglyChipsAreGood on Mar 17, 2016 at 2:00 pm

Pallets may prove preferable to pellets, which have a difficult business model to sustain here in the Territory. This is a big step in the right direction .

Up 16 Down 6

ralpH on Mar 17, 2016 at 9:13 am

I think this just a lot of smoke being blown up the You know what. Although biomass is a great idea. It only works on a small scale. Over In Europe where they are forced to use it due to population and space constraints, and overwhelming government subizidies, here all this goes by the way side. Here it will never be more than a small scale one man show. Cudo's to Haines Junction but their example only holds because they have ample biomass supply right at hand. Every where else logistics will make it unsustainable.

Up 10 Down 7

woodcutter on Mar 16, 2016 at 9:59 pm

Finally, traction is being made on this issue. Biomass generation should be explored, developed and fine tuned, before any major hydro electric dams are built. The potential for a sustainable forestry sector will only be encouraged by this sector. Many countries in Europe are utilizing biomass energy to operate entire towns. Sure the skill set is important, and that skill set can be developed. Stable work for people, builds strong communities

Up 6 Down 2

jc on Mar 16, 2016 at 9:23 pm

Another example of "coming full circle".

Up 3 Down 27

Arn Anderson on Mar 16, 2016 at 4:33 pm

Taking the biomass out of the forest. Not all living creatures use living trees to do their business in or on. Burning....augmenting solar and the wind, yes....

Up 34 Down 3

ProScience Greenie on Mar 16, 2016 at 4:14 pm

Good stuff. If we go for it let's ensure that we allow a lot of small independent Yukon woodcutters to get out in the bush harvesting all that beetle and fire killed wood rather than just the big players. Small is better and spreads the potential income around more fairly. Ensuring minimal red tape would be a bonus.

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