New tool to assess bioenergy potential from BC wildfire prevention work

Aug 28, 2013

A new online tool will help rural communities in British Columbia determine if debris left by local wildfire prevention work can provide a sustainable – and economically beneficial - source of fuel for clean energy production.

Details of the Fire Interface Rural Screening Tool for Heating – FIRST Heat – are contained in a new white paper from the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions (PICS), a collaboration of BC's four research-intensive universities. The paper, Fire in the Woods or Fire in the Boiler?, was produced by PICS-funded researchers from the University of British Columbia and two NGOs, the Community Energy Association (CEA) and the Wood Waste to Rural Heat Project.

Wildfires in BC are becoming increasingly common due to global warming's byproducts of hotter, drier summers and mountain pine beetle affected dried-out forests, and with the increasing population of people living in the wildland-urban interface, according to the report. Rural residents also face higher energy rates than those in the Lower Mainland, and more than 60 percent of BC has no natural gas supply. Some 57 BC communities are off both the electricity and gas grids, and have to bring fuel in.

Co-author and CEA executive director Dale Littlejohn says a biomass district heating system (DHS) could resolve both problems by generating energy from harvested trees and undergrowth, rather than wasting this resource in controlled burn offs.

"Out-of-control wildfires cause huge in Canada and the US, and this research shows that a DHS can reduce that risk while providing cheap, reliable energy generation and local jobs. Reducing burning also improves regional air quality, and district heating systems produce fewer (GHG) than burning conventional fossil fuels for space and water heating."

Littlejohn says FIRST Heat does not negate the need for a detailed DHS feasibility study, but it provides proof of whether the concept could work. He believes that for many rural BC communities, it could.

"This easy-to-use spreadsheet contains a vast library of different forest types, conditions and management data created from our study of three distinct BC eco-climatic regions (the North Interior, the Kootenays and the Shuswap) around the communities of Burns Lake, Invermere and Sicamous. It creates a short-cut for communities who can input local data to estimate capital costs, potential energy savings, the sustainability of biomass supply, and impacts on forest health and soil fertility."

For example, the tool suggests that using wildfire-abatement biomass to fuel a DHS in an area like Sicamous could more than halve the heating bills of local residents (by replacing electricity, propane or heating oil) while paying for itself over 25 years and keeping the money in the local economy. With a required capital investment of $5.5 million, the plant could create more than 50 fulltime jobs, and reduce GHG emissions by 10,000 tonnes/year, with little or no degradation of the local ecosystem.

Results will vary by community, forest type, and the size of heating systems considered.

Tom Pedersen, executive director of PICS, says, "The new FIRST Heat tool offers communities in BC's forested interior the prospect of win-wins: spending less on energy while at the same time limiting exposure to forest fires."

Click on direct links to the full report and to the FIRST Heat tool.

Explore further: Qi wireless charging standard offers more design freedom

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Researchers map the city's heat

May 13, 2012

Steel – the traditional industry for which the UK city of Sheffield is so well known – could help provide a green alternative for heating the city's homes and businesses, alongside other renewable energy sources.

Regions could use food waste for fuel

Mar 21, 2013

Murdoch University researchers are touting biogas from small-scale food waste digesters as a source of renewable energy for rural and regional communities.

Recommended for you

Qi wireless charging standard offers more design freedom

13 hours ago

Wireless charging is getting a new technology treatment which offers more design freedom. The Wireless Power Consortium's advance in its Qi wireless charging standard means that phones and chargers will no ...

'Wetting' a battery's appetite for renewable energy storage

17 hours ago

Sun, wind and other renewable energy sources could make up a larger portion of the electricity America consumes if better batteries could be built to store the intermittent energy for cloudy, windless days. Now a new material ...

New system to optimize public lighting power consumption

18 hours ago

In order to meet the efficiency requirements of the latest public lighting regulations, researchers from the School of Industrial Engineers of Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (UPM), in collaboration with ...

Many tongues, one voice, one common ambition

Jul 31, 2014

There is much need to develop energy efficient solutions for residential buildings in Europe. The EU-funded project, MeeFS, due to be completed by the end of 2015, is developing an innovative multifunctional and energy efficient ...

Panasonic, Tesla to build big US battery plant

Jul 31, 2014

(AP)—American electric car maker Tesla Motors Inc. is teaming up with Japanese electronics company Panasonic Corp. to build a battery manufacturing plant in the U.S. expected to create 6,500 jobs.

User comments : 0