Biomass plant planned for Bridgewater

Proposed location is NSCC campus

A biomass plant to supply an alternative source of renewable energy using scraps of wood from chips to sawdust has been proposed for Bridgewater.

The plant is a project of Bridgewater Renewable Energy Works, and if it succeeds it will one of the first facilities of its kind in North America.

The proposed location of the system is on High Street, and the plant would be attached to the Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC) campus.

“Location is a very positive attribute for this project. It’s literally a few hundred feet from the substation behind the community college, and thermal customers are clustered nearby, minimizing capital and disruption costs,” said Richard Pearson, the CEO of the company, who presented the proposed project to Bridgewater council the evening of March 3.

“There’s a local abundant renewable source of biomass including underutilized forestry residual fibre, sawdust, bark shreds and some underutilized species that aren’t used for the pulp and paper industry and aren’t used for saw logs.”

The company hopes to buy its biomass from local suppliers.

It will require 100 tonnes a day.

“That’s three truckloads, essentially 36,000 tonnes a year,” said Mr. Pearson.

The plant falls in line with Bridgewater’s sustainability goals and actions, and the proposal used these as a backdrop for building here. As of August 20, 2014, it gained support from the province by becoming a Community Feed-in Tariff (COMFIT) project.

“I’m disappointed the province wouldn’t have brought this to our attention and consulted with us a bit more out of a courtesy,” said Councillor Andrew Tanner of the project.

Using cogeneration to provide electricity and thermal energy would displace the fossil fuels used to generate electric heat, creating financial savings and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“So one tonne of dry wood chips goes into the gasifier … It produces syngas, which is a very clean gas. That syngas goes into a gas engine, like a big Caterpillar engine, which is very similar to a huge truck engine. It generates electricity, and that produces 1.1 megawatts of energy per tonne of electricity,” said Mr. Pearson, who also said the process produces 2,000 kilowatts of heat, along with biochar from 10 per cent of one tonne of wood.

The system’s capacity will be 3.2 megawatts of electricity, approximately 3.2 megawatts of thermal energy and about 4,000 tonnes of biochar per year.

“Biochar is becoming a very valuable commodity as an agricultural soil augmentation. “It’s really great for sequestering CO2,” he said.

Aside from being an important soil enhancer, biochar is becoming a valuable renewable feedstock for advanced manufacturing to make nanotubes and to use in nanotechnology.

There are minimal emissions from clean syngas.

“It’s roughly 10 per cent of the provincial emission standards for the COMFIT program,” said Mr. Pearson, who also mentioned that nearly no solid waste would come from the facility.

The renewable electricity would be supplied to the local Nova Scotia Power distribution network and the renewable heat to adjacent thermal energy users including the NSCC campus, the provincial building and the courthouse.

The local forestry industry would be supported by a long-term demand for wood biomass. NSCC would benefit from added educational and training opportunities associated with having this facility at its doorstep.

“It can be made to be very compatible with a city or town environment,” said Mr. Pearson, who noted that noise should not be an issue as everything would be done inside an insulated building.

The for-profit company has already met with the town’s planning director, sewer and water faculty, engineers and the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal.

The NSCC campus is a designated emergency site, and this facility could provide electricity and heat to the campus during such a situation, as the project is off-grid.

The facility plans to have a payroll of about $700,000 a year, which would allow for at least 14 new positions apart from employment spinoffs for other industries.

“It’s not yet clear if this project requires local planning approvals, or whether it would bypass local planning approvals given that it could be a partnership with the province,” said Eric Shaw, the director of planning for the town of Bridgewater, who has known about the project for a few years. “It remains unclear, but if the local approval is required we do have some questions and concerns about the zoning situation.”

As originally published in LighthouseNOW Progress Bulletin

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