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University gets biofuel

Biofuel used to produce clean heat and electricity at UBC


The University of British Columbia became Canada’s first university to produce both heat and electricity from renewable bioenergy using a gas engine.

Earlier this year it opened a $34-million clean energy facility that will reduce the campuses’ natural gas consumption by 12% and greenhouse gas emissions by 9% (5,000 tonnes). This will be the equivalent of taking 1,000 cars off the road. The Bioenergy Research and Demonstration Facility (BRDF) will supply up to 12 % of UBC’s heat requirements and will be generating enough electricity to power about 1,500 homes.

Developed in partnership with Nexterra Systems Corporation and GE, this facility is the first commercial demonstration of a transformative technology that combines Nexterra’s gasification and syngas conditioning technologies with one of GE’s high-efficient Jenbacher internal combustion engines.

“Nexterra’s core technology is a fixed-bed updraft gasification system that uses biomass waste feedstocks to produce syngas which generates steam and hot water to heat industrial and institutional facilities,” said Mike Scott, President and CEO of Nexterra. “Over the past four years, Nexterra has worked closely with GE to advance our core technology to produce, for the first time in North America, both high efficiency power and thermal energy by directly firing syngas into an internal combustion engine.”

Nexterra’s systems range in output from 2 to 40 MWth and 2 – 15 MW electric. Nexterra’s systems are simple in design, are able to handle a wide-range of feedstocks and produce very low emissions. The system at UBC will not only provide heat and power to the campus, but will also be used by researchers, students and partners to research, develop and evaluate bioenergy and other clean energies, processes and technologies.

The plant will run on waste that would otherwise find its way to a landfill. “The UBC system runs on wood residuals that include City of Vancouver tree trimmings, clean demolition and construction debris, and waste wood from various furniture manufacturers in the Metro Vancouver area,” he said, although other waste materials can also be used by the company’s gasifiers.

“Our most promising new feedstock is biosolids or sludge from sewage treatment plants. We have processed this successfully and are devoting considerable resources to developing projects in this field. We are also planning to process agricultural residuals, composted MSW, bagasse/sugar cane waste, etc.”

Scott points out that the raw waste material for the UBC facility is plentiful. “UBC’s system requires about 12,500 metric tonnes per year,” he said. “Approximately 70 tonnes, or two truckloads per day. The annual natural gas displacement is 25 million kWt-hrs/yr.” The plant is essentially self-powered. “The gasifier uses a small amount of energy to start the gasification process and also electricity to run the control systems, some of the equipment, etc. Once started, the gasification system produces its own energy/heat to keep the system operating. However the output of the system that delivers heat, steam and electricity greatly exceeds the small amount of external energy the system uses,” said Scott.

Not only will the UBC facility provide clean heat and energy, it will also be simple to service and maintain. “Nexterra’s systems have state-of-the-art control technology and require very little operational support,” said Scott. “At the University of Northern BC, for instance, the system basically operates itself. Operators stop by a few times a day to check on things and, of course, are notified if anything is not operating properly. UBC is a more complex system because we have added the GE Jenbacher engine/electricity generation component to the project. The system is also part of UBC’s ‘Campus as a Living Laboratory’ focus.”

This four-storey, 1,900-square-metre $34-million clean energy facility received funding support from the Federal Government, $13.7 million (Natural Resources Canada, Western Economic Diversification Canada, Sustainable Development Technology Canada) and $7 million from the BC Government (BC’s Innovative Clean Energy Fund, BC Bioenergy Network and the BC Ministry of Forests). Additional support was provided by FPInnovations and the Canadian Wood Council.

This article originally appeared in the October 2012 issue of Lab Product News.