Whitehorse Daily Star

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BURGEONING TECHNOLOGY – Watson Lake resident Dan Reams, right, stands with an engineer from the Finnish Volter company at a 2016 trade show in Finland. Behind the two is a wood gasification unit that produces electricity and heat. A similar unit has been purchased by Yukon College, and it’s expected to arrive in the next couple of months. Photo courtesy DAN REAMS Inset Miles thorpe

College on tap to receive gasifier

A gasifier that converts wood to heat and electricity is headed for Yukon College,

By Chuck Tobin on March 7, 2018

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).

Comments (17)

Up 1 Down 0

Richard Wilson on Apr 26, 2018 at 9:42 am

Congratulations to Dan and Jesse Reams for taking the initiative to bring the Volter technology to the Yukon. A review of some of the 100+ examples of Volter projects that have been operating successfully, show cost savings of >90%, a reduction in carbon footprint of 89% and a very healthy return on investment of 3 years. Using a renewable resource that is local and a technology that has been proven in BC in addition, particularly at UBC Northern Campus in Prince George, by Nexterra, makes abundant sense. Hopefully Dan and Jesse can persuade Yukon College to start using this project to ramp up their Renewable Resource Course to benefit local students. It would be perfect! Thanks to Dan and Jesse to their great initiative.

Up 1 Down 0

weird? on Mar 12, 2018 at 11:36 am

The article starts with "A gasifier that converts wood to heat and electricity is headed for Yukon College, says the executive director of the Yukon Wood Products Association."

Isn't it weird that no one from Yukon College was actually quoted in this article? Or YG who owns the building?

Up 1 Down 0

woodcutter on Mar 12, 2018 at 9:44 am

@ Werner

You hit the nail on the head. Too many times people point to past mistakes as reason to not try. Reminds me of a child starting to walk. seeing people walk the child tries, falls down, tries again, falls down. No time does it think, maybe this is not for me, tries again, until they figure it out.

Same is with the switch to "Green Energy", there is going to be falls, but when you see other implementing it successfully, it should send signals it can be done.

Dan is a knowledgeable person and this gives me confidence, that this system will work.

Up 1 Down 0

north_of_60 on Mar 11, 2018 at 5:34 pm

During the last four decades there have been quite a few government funded wood-chip-fuel 'pilot projects'. They've all spent more time 'down-for-maintenance-and-repairs' than making heat, and all failed for the same reason. The failures are due to recurrent human error, compounded by a litany of excuses instead of resolving the actual problem.

There are thousands of successful wood-chip-fuel heating systems around the world so the problem isn't the technology. Nearly all the successful systems are private-enterprise, owner-operator, and the people involved at all stages have a strong interest in making it work efficiently.

Wood chip quality control is essential for success. They must be dry and uniform size, with no splinters, dirt or rocks. If dirt and rocks get into the chipper the blades quickly get too dull to make chips. If the blades are not kept sharp they make long splinters instead of correctly sized chips. If the splinters are not removed, they jam in the automatic system that feeds chips into the boiler. When this happens the chip feed system usually breaks, and the wood fuel heating is shut down until repairs can be made. 'Run it till it breaks, then get "them" to buy a new one', is a common operating practice on government funded projects in the North. Maintenance is someone else's job.

The demonstration pilot projects last as long as the government funding keeps flowing. When the funding stops, it's always been less expensive and more reliable to use oil instead of wood chips. These are realities the wood fuel proponents either don't understand or willfully choose to ignore.

Oil is a consistently high-quality fuel, delivered by a contractor at a reasonable price, and it doesn't have a bunch of local 'social problems' attached.
Wood pellet fuel is too. That's why the engineers that designed the biomass heating for the jail chose wood pellets instead of locally sourced chips.

Thirty years ago the government could have invested in wood pellet plants in Haines Jct and Watson Lk instead of continuing to fund a series of wood-chip-fuel boondoggles that would inevitably fail. If "they" had invested in pellet fuel we would now have a successful and sustainable biomass fuel system in the Yukon. Perhaps there were other politically correct agendas and wood-chip-fuel was just an excuse. It appears the process was more important than technical success of biomass fuel.

The new wood chip systems at Raven and Teslin show promise but only time will tell if they last longer than previous attempts. The waste wood supply in the Yukon is immense, however responsible human resources seem to be the missing link to make utilization successful.

Up 1 Down 0

ralpH on Mar 11, 2018 at 2:21 pm

@Werner you make some great points. But it still brings up the fact that in the long term it will have to be funded by the public. IS that a good thing I am not sure. True there is a lot of biomass out there and again I wonder if this is the right avenue for it's utilization.
@ Scott I do not know who You are, but I will say I am in the limelight of my life. I do still run a small business and have been in the private sector all of it. Been gold mining, sawmilling, and road construction most of it as a entrepreneur. I have seen a lot. My opinion is just that, take it for what it is worth. I appreciate The news allowing those under aliases. Yukon is a fascinating place and with many fascinating people. Just worries me that the true spirit of it is being lost. In the sixties when I came here it was by the seat of Your pants make it or break it. Not anymore.

Up 1 Down 5

Scott Mac Lean on Mar 10, 2018 at 6:21 pm

ralph you seem to be an expert on all things it's unfortunate you won't comment under your real name

Up 2 Down 3

Werner Rhein on Mar 10, 2018 at 2:05 pm

All the commenters here have basically NO idea what they are talking about. Wood gasification is not a new technology; it was just for too long suppressed by the fossil fuel industry and the laziness of the consumer.
The gasifier at the college was basically an old out-udated piece of junk and way to complicated to operate. With the proper operator and maintenance, it still could have worked if connected correctly to the heating system. The designing engineer had not the slightest idea about the physics involved. So did the people buying it and the politicians signing the cheque.
The wood smolderer at the Elisha Smith school was designed by an aeronautical engineer who probably can't even make a campfire.
The wood boiler at the correctional center is a similar story, not proper connection design to the system, no properly trained personnel to operate and maintain and not the correct fuel.

Now we are buying the Rolls Roy's of CHP unit available on this planet?
A bit more time googelling could have probably come up with a more economical unit to start with and most importantly with a dealership for service closer by.

The fuel stock supply for moving totally over to wood biomass for heat and electricity in the Yukon is in front of our doorsteps.
A lot of it could come from mitigating the fire danger around our communities. An issue nobody is talking about here.
Yes, a lot of that stuff coming from fire smarting is green. But nothing time couldn't correct by storing it properly for a season or two.
All this is a win, win undertaking for everyone.
The fire situation could be mitigated,
a lot of local jobs created, which means also tax revenues,
it could take a big bite out of the $200 000 000 the Yukon is paying every
year for fossil fuels. Money that goes to people outside.
and last but not least the reduction of CO2 output, which the Yukon has the
highest in Canada per capita.

Why is everybody still sitting on their hands? There is less than a handful of people in the Yukon who really know about wood gasification and I think are more than willing to get involved in planning, selecting and installing this technology.

Up 5 Down 1

ralpH on Mar 10, 2018 at 8:57 am

@ woodcutter - I as You am too old to worry about it. And I do agree with most of your points. I just worry that this becomes an animal that affects traditional wood cutting and costs Yukoners directly. As stated before this is 4-5 tries at this type of endeavor and Government has paid for all of it.

Up 4 Down 1

Way back when ... on Mar 9, 2018 at 4:52 pm

the college was originally built, apparently it included a gasification unit for heating, not sure about electricity, which has since been chopped-up dismantled and is gone? The heating fuel rate that YTG pays is a lower rate than the rest of us so it's hard to beat cost wise when it comes to alternate energy sources and it's all our tax dollars. How's the pellet system at the correctional centre working? Elijah Smith school has biomass boiler too I think? I wonder if there is enough data now to do actual comparisons not that I want to spend more money on a study and there needs to be "the will" to know.

Up 4 Down 1

woodcutter on Mar 9, 2018 at 3:11 pm

@ Ralph

Cost to bring in "Dry Wood" is not reflected in the market value that customers pay, but reflected in factors such as cost of alternative, weather, number of folks in the supply side and perception of value by our customers. If we were to fast to a European model, the economies would change to the point that the unit cost would greatly be reduced. This can work, and I am certain it will, it's worked in other jurisdictions in Europe where the scaling of the systems is as this article indicates. Just for your info, unit out of pocket cash cost, landed at the customer, depending if cutting in fox lake or Haines Junction ranges between $33 to $48 a cubic meter, not including my labor. As I mechanize the cash cost are increasing, however the labor component required is dropping significantly. I myself don't see arguing to supply a process like this, I am only a one man show and I enjoy the bush, without the hassle of staff and debt, beside I am too old, i'll leave that up to the next generation to tackle.

Up 4 Down 0

north_of_60 on Mar 8, 2018 at 6:12 pm

The feasibility and economics would increase significantly if they fed the gassifier all the used cardboard that's trucked Outside for dubious value.

Up 4 Down 2

ralpH on Mar 8, 2018 at 6:01 pm

@woodcutter - If you are a woodcutter and am not making fun I also cut wood. I highly doubt you could cut it for what they would be willing to pay and they could not afford to pay what you would want. That said gasification needs dry wood chips or pellets. Just the cost of bringing it to that stage makes it unfeasable. After that is the handling and maintaining the plant. BC has been playing with this for a while and only make it work when they burn their own waste products from other endeavours. Stand alone is not gonna work.

Up 3 Down 1

woodcutter on Mar 8, 2018 at 3:40 pm

A great first step to get the doubtful some comfort on the feasibility. Of course there's labor involved, when isn't there. It's not a free process, but neither is fossil fuels. The co2 created is the same amount as if the tree was to naturally decompose were it fell in the forest. This could be a economic boon for the territory specific to the forestry sector by creating full time meaningful jobs.

Up 5 Down 1

Groucho d'North on Mar 8, 2018 at 3:39 pm

Is this the third or fourth high-tech burner solution? I've lost count.

Up 1 Down 2

ProScience Greenie on Mar 8, 2018 at 2:26 pm

Pretty cool but it seems there's a big carbon footprint with the purchasing of the unit(s). We need less of that if we're really serious about being green.

Up 0 Down 2

ralpH on Mar 8, 2018 at 1:04 pm

A renewable resource and plenty of it for sure. But outside of that labor intensive and expensive. And now I hear CO 2 emissions are as much of a concern as fossil fuel. Pellets and chips need to be processed first, and then paid for by the client. In Europe pretty sure there is a requirement to bring all biomass to collection points. Very nice idea but I don't think suitable for here without public support. Wish Them well.

Up 0 Down 2

jc on Mar 7, 2018 at 9:08 pm

So, how do they heat up the wood? The story doesn't say. The best part of the story is missing.

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