Renewable Energy Resources: Bioenergy

Bioenergy is produced through the incineration of biological materials in solid, liquid or gaseous form that store sunlight in the form of chemical energy.[1] Bioenergy materials can be burned directly to produce heat and electricity or can be converted biochemically, catalytically or thermally to produce liquid fuels – such as ethanol. It can also produce gaseous fuel, oils, and high value chemicals.[2]

Bioenergy comes in two main forms;

  • Biogas which converts manure, feed spills, crop residues, slaughter waste and other organic wastes into methane for heat and power;[3] and
  • Biomass which combusts waste wood from forest processes and agriculture crop waste, to produce heat and power.[4] Biomass often uses wood products or waste which can be combusted to produce heat for industrial purposes, for space and water heating, or to produce steam for electricity. It is a fast growing area of renewable energy and there will likely be increasing demand for its use.[5]

It is also worth noting that unlike some of the other forms of renewable energy, biomass is a renewable resource only if its rate of consumption does not exceed its rate of regeneration.[6] This means that the source of the biomass (usually trees or other plants) must have time to re-grow before it can be used again. This can be mitigated through the use of waste such as the scrap pieces from a lumber yard which would have otherwise been discarded . However, this is a valid critique of bioenergy and should be considered when evaluating how best to green our energy grid.

Bioenergy is one of the largest renewable energy sources in Canada, making up 6% of Canada’s electricity generation.[7] Yet, it does not have a very significant presence in Alberta.

In fact, in Alberta, there are only a handful major bioenergy projects up and running and the majority of these projects are not adding power to the electricity grid but rather are used to power the plant or farm where they are located. One way that the province is trying to increase the use of bioenergy, and in particular biofuel, is through renewable fuel mandates. These mandates require a certain percentage of all fuel to come from renewable sources – including biofuel.[8]

Although there has been increased attention paid to the potential positive effects that accompany bioenergy, a lot more still needs to be done, both legally and economically to increase the legal simplicity and cost-efficiency of switching to bioenergy.

 

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[1] Natural Resources Canada, “Bioenergy Systems” (9 March 2018) Government of Canada online: https://www.nrcan.gc.ca/energy/renewable-electricity/bioenergy-systems/7311.

[2] Natural Resources Canada, “Biomass Resources” (27 July 2017) Government of Canada online: http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/energy/renewable-electricity/bioenergy-systems/7389.

[3] Pembina Institute, “Community-Owned Renewables: Making Renewable Energy a Priority” online: https://www.pembina.org/reports/community-owned-re-fact-sheet.pdf.

[4] Pembina Institute, “Community-Owned Renewables: Making Renewable Energy a Priority”.

[5] Natural Resources Canada, “About Renewable Energy” (29 June 2016) Government of Canada online: http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/energy/renewable-electricity/7295#what .

[6] Natural Resources Canada, “About Renewable Energy”.

[7] Natural Resources Canada, “Bioenergy Systems”.

[8] Renewable Fuels Standard Regulation, Alta Reg 29/2010.

 

 

 

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