NRC building Canada’s first biomass CHP testing and training hub for remote communities

Providing energy solutions for Canadian remote communities

In off-grid and isolated Canadian communities, energy for residents and industries is most often generated through diesel, which emits large amounts of greenhouse gases (GHG) and negatively impacts local air quality. These communities are often in the coldest parts of Canada and rely upon diesel deliveries to ensure heat, power, and quality of life, particularly during winter months.

Biomass Combined Heat and Power (CHP) systems are a much cleaner energy alternative to generating heat and power with diesel and other fossil fuels. These systems offer economic and social benefits such as energy security and independence, local economic growth and job creation, revitalization of the forestry sector, and more.

Using locally-available waste wood from forestry operations as a renewable biomass feedstock eliminates the need to transport fossil fuel long distances to remote communities, reducing the risks associated with delivery delays, fuel costs and the additional consumption of fossil fuels in the transportation process.

To facilitate the deployment of biomass CHP systems in remote communities, NRC is working closely with FPInnovations and UBC to design and build the first testing and training biomass CHP facility in Canada at NRC's Vancouver location on the University of British Columbia campus.

NRC's pilot facility is part of a larger umbrella project with Natural Resources Canada's CanmetENERGY (NRCan) to establish five biomass CHP systems at technical colleges in remote and northern locations. The NRC hub in Vancouver will also be used as a testing facility for systems prior to implementation in other parts of Canada.

How biomass CHP systems work

Biomass CHP systems use locally-available biomass to produce heat and power to meet local demands. The system converts a biomass feedstock into synthetic gas (syngas), which is then scrubbed of tars and contaminants before entering an internal combustion engine for generating electricity and useable heat.

Woody biomass in the form of wood chips or pellets is a readily available feedstock in many Canadian remote communities. But the quality and composition of these feedstocks varies seasonally and regionally, posing technical challenges for biomass CHP systems. Addressing system efficiency and performance is just one area in which NRC's bioenergy program experts collaborate with partners to develop customized solutions.

NRC's new state-of-the art pilot facility will simulate advanced micro-grid scenarios, using a diesel generator, battery system, solar array, and micro-grid controller. NRC is designing the facility and the interconnections for heat and power to the building, and will work with industrial partners who will supply the micro-grid components.

Technology and feedstock testing

A wide range of new technologies and diverse feedstocks can be tested at the Vancouver facility. Prior to setting up a biomass CHP system in a remote community, NRC invites technology providers to collaborate with our experts on testing the performance of feedstocks, system safety and reliability, and methods to extend the operational life of the system.

NRC is seeking collaborators for pilot projects to develop and test biomass CHP systems, and to create testing and training activities designed to support biomass CHP systems implementation across Canada, thereby supporting the advancement of the energy and forestry sectors. Technology companies are invited to bring innovative technology solutions to NRC for testing in a unique micro-grid environment.

Testing will include evaluating the performance of the biomass CHP system using a variety of woody feedstocks (species, moisture content, etc.) representative of different regions in Canada verifying the system's ability to meet fluctuating load demands typical of remote communities and industrial sites, and optimizing system integration and controls with other generation devices such as diesel and solar.

Biomass CHP systems tested at the facility will be capable of producing up to 150kW of electricity and 400 kW of useable heat, which is enough to heat and power a small community.

Training and benefits

NRC experts and project partners will provide hands-on training for CHP system end-users such as community members, industrial site employees, and others. Programs will include training on how to install, operate, optimize and maintain the equipment.

Overall, biomass-fueled CHP systems could benefit nearly 300 remote and indigenous Canadian communities, both in terms of improved environmental outcomes and sustainable economic opportunities. Installing and operating systems in these communities will create new job opportunities for manufacturers, operators and local biomass suppliers, many from First Nations communities.

Contact us to learn more about this facility and other bioenergy projects and collaboration opportunities.

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