Exploring alternative fuel technologies

December 20, 2010— Vancouver, British Columbia

First published December 20, 2010; updated December 2012

Nexterra Systems Corp.

Because of increasingly volatile energy costs and demand for climate change solutions, institutional and industrial facilities have started to explore renewable energy technologies, such as gasification. Gasification is a process that uses biomass, like wood, to generate a mixture known as syngas that can be used to produce heat and power in place of fossil fuels. Using syngas in place of fossil fuels has many benefits: it offers long term cost-security, it can be created with locally sourced biomass, and it supports the reduction of carbon footprint by using renewable energy sources.

Biomass gasification system located at Tolko Industries (Kamloops, BC)

Gasification process using wood as biomass to generate a mixture known as syngas that can later be used to produce heat, power or chemical

Nexterra Systems Corp. understood that researching, developing and commercializing gasification technology for thermal applications could put them on the cutting edge of the technology and position the business for future expansion. However, Nexterra could not achieve this alone. Since its inception in 2003, Nexterra has been working with the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC IRAP).

Leveraging NRC IRAP support together with its innovative ideas about how to tap the emerging market for clean, self-generated heat and power fueled by low-cost biomass, Nexterra's management team has successfully raised $40 million to date. Those funds have enabled the firm to turn its innovative ideas into a commercially viable reality.

Nexterra's first application was a system that would displace natural gas in the forestry industry by using the industry's waste wood as energy. The company installed its first commercial facility in 2006 at Tolko Industries, a major Canadian-owned forest products company.

Nexterra's NRC IRAP Industrial Technology Advisor (ITA) was instrumental in the deal, encouraging Tolko to make the commitment and helping to identify additional funding mechanisms to drive the sale. Tim Kukler, Nexterra's Vice-President of Finance, says the company greatly appreciates the industry savvy advice provided by NRC IRAP staff. "Our ITA opened doors for us to make that important first sale."

The success of the Tolko project led to another key project for Nexterra: North America's first biomass-based neighbourhood energy utility. Located at the Dockside Green development in downtown Victoria, B.C., the gasification system installed by Nexterra provides heat and hot water for the whole community.

The Dockside Green project was another huge success for the company. The development, anchored by Nexterra's gasification system, was given a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) platinum rating and has received worldwide recognition for its sustainability.

In addition, the Tolko installation also resulted in a strategic alliance with U.S.-based Johnson Controls. The alliance gave Nexterra the opportunity to install biomass gasification systems that anchored a $20 million cogeneration plant at the University of South Carolina, as well as a new $40 million steam plant at the largest science and energy laboratory in the U.S., the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

The increased visibility in the U.S. resulting from these projects helped bring Nexterra together with GE Energy to collaborate on a small-scale biomass power solution for high-efficiency internal combustion engines. The initiative with GE has the potential to revolutionize on-site renewable power production globally.

Each of these projects has required Nexterra to develop its core technologies further. NRC IRAP remains committed to the company, providing guidance, support and inspiration on a consistent basis.

"NRC IRAP helped us explore our own business process," says Kukler. "They gave us a reality check."

NRC IRAP has contributed financially to four targeted Nexterra projects and continues to support ongoing projects. But its consistent technical and business support have been of even greater value to the growing firm.

"Our NRC IRAP advisor liaised extensively with other federal and provincial departments to assist Nexterra in communicating its message," says Mike Scott, Nexterra's President and CEO. "It has enabled us to leverage NRC IRAP funding by a factor of ten."

Updated Information

  1. Nexterra now has 6 commercially operating gasification system with over 150,000 hours of operation. Successfully completed projects include the Kruger Products Tissue Mill in New Westminster, B.C. (started in 2009), the University of Northern British Columbia (started in 2011), and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Labs (started in 2011). Independent testing has verified these systems as some of the cleanest biomass energy systems in North America. Nexterra was also selected to deliver a combined heat and power project to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Battle Creek Medical Center in Michigan. This is Nexterra’s second sale to the U.S. government. The system will be operational in the second half of 2013.
  2. Building on its collaboration to combine its gasification system with GE Energy’s high-efficiency engines, Nexterra installed its first commercial demonstration of this application at the University of British Columbia. This first-of-its-kind project in North America will produce renewable electricity and steam for the campus while also showcasing the first demonstration of cross-laminate timber, a new made-in-British Columbia building product. The system was commissioned in the summer of 2012. UBC, Nexterra and an international consortium of partners are now working together on future applications of gasification.
  3. Nexterra has started to look international. The firm is strongly focused on the United Kingdom market where they have strong incentives for gasification. It is also exploring opportunities in Asia and Europe.
  4. Nexterra continues to develop its core technology to run on new fuels and advanced applications. The company is planning trials on new waste fuels such as biosolids, construction debris, bagasse and other organic waste fuels. Nexterra is also working on further upgrading its syngas into renewable gases and chemicals.

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