Wood pellet as part of the solution to decarbonize the electricity generation in Alberta

Biomass and Bioenergy Research Group at UBC helps the industry to introduce forest biomass and wood pellet as part of the solution to decarbonize the electricity generation in Alberta

Climate Change and Global Warming have been the focal point of many workshops, seminars, conferences and other events at local, national, regional and international levels. Many of these events strived to develop supporting policies and financial incentives that would push the big GHG emitters to find and implement innovative and sustainable solutions that result in the reduction of the carbon intensity of their industrial activities. However, these policies usually come with social and economic challenges. The Climate Leadership Plan released by the Government of Alberta in November 2015 is an example of such a policy. This plan aims to accelerate the transition from coal to renewable electricity sources, put a price on carbon pollution and set emissions limits for oil sands1. The details of Alberta’s Climate Leadership Plan can be found here.

As shown in Figure 1, Alberta has been the largest emitter of GHG in Canada since 1990. In 2014, Alberta accounted for 37% (273.8 million tonnes of CO2-eq) of the national total of GHG emission (732.6 million tonnes of CO2-eq) 2. Alberta power fleet accounts for about 17% of the total GHG emissions of the province3. Currently, there are 18 generating station units in Alberta with a total capacity of 6,271 MW, about 39% of the total power supply in Alberta. Although the coal phase-out from the existing power fleet would have a significant impact on the GHG emission profile of the entire province and Canada, the social and economic costs of this ambitious transition must be minimized. Maintaining the reliability of the electricity grid, the price stability for consumers, recovering the capital cost of some of the coal power plants, and stabilizing the job market in the small communities and towns affected by this transition are the primary challenges that the Government of Alberta must cope with.



Figure 1. GHG emissions by province and territory in Canada- 1990, 2005 and 2014 (Government of Canada, Environment and Climate Change Canada2 ).


In January 2016, Biomass and Bioenergy Research Group (BBRG) held a meeting at the Chemical and Biological Engineering Department. Delegates from BBRG, Wood Pellet Association of Canada (WPAC), FPInnovations, BiofuelNet, BC Bioenergy Network and the Wood Pellet Sector came together to discuss the ways to introduce biomass as a sustainable and renewable fuel source to decarbonize the power generation in Alberta. The main outcome of this meeting was to organize a one-day workshop in Edmonton. The overall objective of the workshop was to address one single question “Why cofiring biomass with coal is a viable option to reduce the carbon intensity of coal-fired power plants in Alberta”. To this end, BBRG worked closely with WPAC and Canadian Biomass Magazine to organize the workshop. The workshop was sold out in late April and over 125 delegates from the government, industry, non-profit organizations and academia came together in May 4th to engage in a discussion on biomass cofiring in Alberta. The workshop agenda can be found here.

Experts from various organizations covered different aspects of biomass cofiring opportunity in Alberta. UBC’s BBRG members, Dr. Shahab Sokhansanj, Dr. Mahmood Ebadian, Dr. Fahimeh Yazdanpanah and Ryan Jacobson presented the results of their research on “logistics of supplying wood pellets to coal-fired power plants in Alberta”. Their research sheds some light on woody biomass availability in Alberta and British Columbia, logistics scenarios to supply woody biomass from forest stands to the gate of the coal power plants, the logistics costs and modification costs of the power plants, and the number of potential employment created across the supply chain.


Biomass Cofiring workshop in Edmonton, May 4th, 2016.

The message at the end of the workshop was clear: cofiring forest biomass with coal is a technically and commercially viable option to combat the climate change in Alberta. However, more collective and prompt efforts are required among different stakeholders to put biomass cofiring on the government’s agenda as a viable option to phase out coal in Alberta.  BBRG is continuing its collaboration with WPAC, Canadian Biomass Magazine and the industry to make biomass cofiring a reality in Alberta. Top 10 takeaways from the workshop can be found here.


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