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Could Revelstoke become home to a bioenergy facility?

A pilot plant that converts wood waste to diesel fuel opened in Austria in 2012. A consultant believes Revelstoke would make a good home for such a facility. - Photo by BDI-Bioenergy International
A pilot plant that converts wood waste to diesel fuel opened in Austria in 2012. A consultant believes Revelstoke would make a good home for such a facility.
— image credit: Photo by BDI-Bioenergy International

Imagine taking all the wood waste produced around Revelstoke — the waste from the mills and the slash piles in the backcountry that are burned in the fall — and converting that into usable energy.

That is the proposal of John Christie, a business consultant who focuses on green technology development. He recently approached Revelstoke council and the Revelstoke Community Energy Corporation about new technologies that are used to convert wood waste into bioenergy.

“It is changing quite quickly and I’m able to see the new technologies coming. I have clients who are very interested in them and I do the business case for them,” Christie told the Times Review. “There’s actually some good economic sense to do these new technologies. I just wanted to bring it to their attention and see if they’re interested in pursuing the next step.”

Council paid attention to his pitch. They voted to contribute $15,000 from the Economic Opportunity Fund to have Christie prepare a request for proposal (RFP) for a bioenergy facility in Revelstoke.

I spoke to Christie last week by phone to find out more about his proposal. He said Revelstoke, with its abundant wood waste — both from the mills and in the bush — is well positioned to be the site of a bioenergy facility that would convert that waste into a usable fuel.

Christie mentioned two possibilities. The first was torrefied wood pellets — essentially a more energy dense form of wood that could be used for heating.

“They increase the density of energy in wood products to make it much more economical for both the consumer and for a business to invest in,” he said. “There’s better margins.”

The other techology he spoke of, and focused most on, was that of converting wood waste into a form of green diesel fuel

The technology behind converting biomass to diesel is fairly new. The first plant to do so was opened by BioEnergy International, a green energy company, and OMV, an Austrian oil and gas company, in Austria in July 2012. The plant converts wood biomass into diesel fuel by heating it with heavy oil. According to the proponents, the fuel meets green energy standards without using crops that are needed for food production like ethanol fuel, which is mostly made from corn.

According to Christie, the technology is nearing the point where it will soon be economically feasible to build a plant in Revelstoke. “Probably the most exciting new technology is making green diesel from biomass,” he said. “That’s just on the cusp.

“I know the technology will work, it’s just a matter of who’s going to be first.”

It is also scalable, so small plants could be built, Christie said.

Preparing the RFP will require two steps. The first is a survey of potential participants to make sure there’s enough interest to warrant proceeding.

The second step would be to prepare the actual RFP. That would involve determining the amount of biomass available and the amount required for a plant. In a report to council, Christie wrote this is a key element. “A good supply of low cost biomass could solicit a large number of respondents,” he wrote.

The RFP would also indicate what projects are being considered, the market potential, technical feasibility, and the economic benefits and incentives.

Geoff Battersby, the chair of both the Revelstoke Community Energy Corporation and Revelstoke Community Forestry Corporation, said there is interest in the community to pursue a bioenergy plant. He said he is taking the day-to-day lead on representing the city’s interest with the proposal.

“It’s got implications for RCEC, RCFC and Downie,” he said. “Basically what we’re going to do is research emerging technology, or technology that looks really promising, or technology that’s actually proven to see if any of them would best suit Revelstoke’s situation.”

Batterby said Downie Timber produces about 100,000 tonnes a year of wood waste, and that 40 per cent of RCFC’s logs go to pulp mills, which pay very little for them.

“If there’s an alternative for our wood residue, that would be very nice,” he said.

Those numbers don’t include the wood that is left behind in slash piles in the bush.

Christie believes there is enough wood waste available in Revelstoke to make a bioenergy plant feasible. He said it could produce up to 18 million litres of liquid fuel per year and employ 50–60 people year-round. The finished product could then be sold wherever there is demand for it.

“Green diesel is in high demand so there’s good investor opportunities there. I expect to see some real interest,” he said. “City’s like Revelstoke have a real energy resource and that’s what I’ve been telling people — helping them to understand it’s quite a viable resource.”

Bioenergy Opportunities for Revelstoke report by AlexCooperRTR

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