Summary Report: Technology Forum - Processing Agricultural Biomass for Combustion Energy to Meet End-User Needs

 Table of Contents

  1. Synopsis
  2. Presentations and Forum Highlights
  3. Conclusions Emerging from the Forum

This report summarizes the information and views expressed by speakers and participants at the forum.


What we currently know/understand

What we still need to know/gaps

  • Agricultural biomass types of higher interest are woody and herbaceous energy crops in terms of fuel quality, yield and cost. Crop and industrial residues are also readily available and lower-cost, but fuel quality is low
  • Torrefied biomass has advantages: Is hydrophobic and dry, is not biologically active, higher density, higher energy density, is friable, provides cost savings in transportation, handling and processing. Market is driven mainly by utilities, with potential for residential and industrial heating
  • On its own, torrefaction will not significantly reduce sulphur, chlorine and alkali concentrations in biomass
  • Gasification (production of syngas), is not generally seen as promising at the present state of the technology
  • Combined heat and power (CHP) is particularly attractive due to efficiency of overall energy use
  • Combustion systems using biomass are commercially available in Canada at sizes from two kilowatts to 500 megawatts. Almost all Canadian-manufactured boilers are designed for wood (need modifications to burn agricultural biomass)
  • Woody biomass has low ash content, very low sulphur
  • Combustion temperature significantly affects total yield of ash from biomass
  • Cost is higher than coal
  • Ontario's Feed-in Tariff Program price for biomass is not attractive
  • No commercial combustion technologies for small-scale power generation are available
  • Challenges for biomass users include how/where to use the waste heat and how to create biomass fuel infrastructure
  • What can be done cost-effectively to address fuel quality issues i.e. high chlorine content, sulphur, high percentage of alkali metals, ash fusibility (ash melting point is low for herbaceous biomass compared to wood), emissions from combustion, moisture, high ash, alkali and halogens, emissions and fouling?
  • Torrefaction presents outstanding research questions (e.g. most experience is with torrefied wood); results from only pilot-scale plants are available; uncertainties about large-scale torrefacton processing
  • Demonstration gasification projects, mostly in Europe, tend to focus on woody biomass; North American experience is limited
  • How to address challenges for processors of ag biomass: cash flow and storage requirements (given seasonal availability of raw feedstocks, seasonality of pellet use for space heating), abrasiveness of agricultural biomass (silicates reduce die life)
  • Impact of different storage options on biomass quality

Introduction and Context

The Technology Forum was hosted by the Steering Committee for the Project to Commercialize Agricultural Biomass for Combustion Energy. The purpose of this project is to coordinate the analysis of the feasibility of a commercial agricultural biomass industry for combustion energy in Ontario and, if feasible, set the foundation for the industry. The Steering Committee is co-chaired by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) and Ontario Power Generation (OPG).

As a key component of the Ontario government's Climate Change Action Plan, OPG is exploring the conversion of coal-fired generating units to firing, or natural gas co-firing, with biomass fuels including wood pellets and agricultural biomass. The cement industry, some agricultural operations (e.g. greenhouses) and others currently reliant on coal or natural gas are also seeking renewable sources of energy as a greenhouse gas mitigation measure.

The Ontario agricultural sector is increasingly interested in the value chains and business models associated with the utilization of agricultural biomass for energy generation. Consequently, there is a need to co-ordinate and focus the efforts of the agricultural and rural sectors, researchers and key partners to validate the long-term prospects of this business opportunity in terms of technical feasibility, economic viability and environmental sustainability.

The Steering Committee has three Working Groups composed of people in the forefront of this emerging industry – the Business Case Working Group, the Technical Working Group and the Environmental Sustainability Working Group. Working Group members are called on to share their expertise and provide insight to the Steering Committee. The Technical Working Group, led by René Van Acker of the University of Guelph, is focused on the agronomic, infrastructure and combustion challenges of agricultural biomass. The Technology Forum was organized by this Working Group.

Technology Forum Objective

The objective of the Technology Forum was to bring participants up-to-date on the technologies for processing agricultural biomass for combustion energy, alternative methods of storing agricultural biomass prior to processing, and the technical requirements of emerging agricultural biomass end-user markets. The forum also aimed to initiate the exploration of whether, when and how to develop various agricultural biomass supply chains in Ontario.

Speakers were asked to provide practical information – both challenges and opportunities – on biomass combustion from the end-user perspective and on the technical aspects of the various biomass processing alternatives for combustion energy. Participants were encouraged to share information and help identify knowledge gaps that may need to be filled as the Steering Committee coordinates its analysis of the feasibility of commercializing agricultural biomass for the production of combustion energy in Ontario.


There were approximately 160 participants – 110 attending in person at the Arboretum Centre, University of Guelph and 50 linked by webcast. A broad spectrum of sectors was represented, including agricultural producers, farm organizations, governments (federal and provincial), technology companies, the biomass processing industry, biomass end-users, university researchers and consultants – most located in Ontario, with some participation from other provinces.

Presentations and Forum Highlights

Please note that the full set of speaker presentations is available here.

What follows are highlights from the speaker presentations for each panel, followed by discussion points and participant input.

Biomass End-Users: Speaker Highlights

Rob Cumming – Lafarge Canada Inc.

Rob Cumming is the Environmental & Public Affairs Manager for Lafarge Cement's Ontario operations and is based at the cement plant at Bath. He has been with Lafarge for seven years. He obtained his Masters in Engineering from the University of Waterloo with a focus on environmental engineering, and has been a professional engineer for over 20 years. Last year, the Bath cement plant won the prestigious Environmental Excellence award given to the cement plant with the best combination of outreach, energy management, environmental stewardship, and innovation. There are over 120 cement plants in North America vying for this prize, which is awarded by the Portland Cement Association.

  • Cement industry produces 5% of global CO2 emissions – huge opportunity to mitigate climate change with biomass feedstocks instead of coal.
  • Challenges of biomass fuels include cost compared to coal, lower energy density, need for covered storage in some cases.
  • Lafarge used loose biomass in its Oct. 2010 demonstration test in its Bath, ON plant.
  • Advantages of pellets: Recognized product, economical at long transportation distances, improved conveyability, and some benefit over loose biomass in heating value since drier. Disadvantages: Cost, must be stored covered, cement kilns prefer smaller particle size, dusting and off-gassing.
  • Utilizing local fuel is a big positive.
  • "Cement 2020" is considering the practical measures that can be implemented at the Bath plant and potentially worldwide in the cement industry by 2020 to reduce the industry's carbon footprint; use of local biomass is seen as a key opportunity for the industry to become more sustainable.
  • If Cement 2020 is successful, the industry would reduce more CO2 emissions than Canada as a country currently emits.   
  • Biomass issues to be addressed in Cement 2020 include how to improve biomass fuel quality; how/where to use the waste heat; how to create biomass fuel infrastructure; inclusion of water use in life cycle assessments; and emissions from combustion.
Phil Reinert – Ontario Power Generation

Phil Reinert has more than 20 years' experience in the electricity generation industry in a wide breadth of managerial roles at facilities utilizing coal, nuclear, hydroelectric, wind and biomass forms of fuel. Currently, as the Alternate Fuels Manager at Ontario Power Generation's 3000-megawatt Nanticoke Generating Station, he is leading the station's program to convert the plant to cleaner fuels. As well, he is a member of a number of North American and international utility biomass groups.

  • OPG continues to investigate biomass for all coal units being considered for conversion to natural gas.
  • In considering agricultural biomass, OPG must ensure that a balance is struck between fuel quality and cost. Agricultural biomass types of higher interest to OPG – in terms of fuel quality, yield and cost – are woody energy crops and herbaceous energy crops. While agricultural residuals and industrial process residuals are readily available and lower-cost, their fuel quality is low.
  • Torrefied biomass is attractive because unlike standard biomass, it is hydrophobic, is not biologically active, has energy density similar to coal, and is friable. Torrefaction means ability to inventory large fuel volumes; increased maximum capacity ratings for power units; reduction in costs for capital plant modifications, fuel transportation; improved combustion efficiency and improved industrial hygiene. Torrefaction is promising, but there are outstanding research questions that OPG is seeking to have addressed.
  • Agricultural biomass challenges: reducing unwanted chemicals (N,P, K) via leaching or additives; utilizing acceptable fuel densification processes, need for binders due to low lignin; and developing mitigation strategies for industrial hygiene issues (especially for raw biomass fuel) and for reduction of explosion risk.
  • OPG, like other end users, buys energy, not product; based on $/gigajoule or $/BTU. OPG has not established a price to be paid for biomass fuel – price would be negotiated between OPG and the OPA. There would be a penalty for chemistry issues if not dealt with by the biomass supplier.
Albert Mastronardi – H & A Mastronardi Farms

Albert Mastronardi has been growing greenhouse vegetables (tomatoes, peppers and mini-cucumbers) on 32 acres for over 35 years at Kingsville, Ontario. H & A Mastronardi Farms Ltd. is a family-run business that Albert operates from two farm locations with his brother Rudy and parents Henry and Anna. The family, under sister Marlene, also runs a bedding plant retail business called Anna's Flowers.

  • Switched to biomass from natural gas due to high gas prices in early 2000s.
  • Currently using 65% wood, 35% natural gas. Wood includes wood chips (pallets, construction/demolition, forestry residues), not pelletized product. Storage shed has one-month capacity. Foresees blending wood and agricultural biomass in future.
  • Six-megawatt boiler heats 15 acres of greenhouse. Ash is spread on fields.
  • Higher moisture content of fuel means significantly higher cost per gigajoule.
  • Hot water storage is essential; at night, all the heat stored during the day is used.
  • Co-benefit: Potential for CO2 capture for enhancement of greenhouse vegetable production.
  • While natural gas prices have decreased, Mastronardi Farms has made a strong commitment to biomass on the basis that over the long term, fossil fuel prices will increase.
Servanne Fowlds – Dalkia Canada

Servanne Fowlds has worked in the energy and environmental industry for the past 12 years in a variety of different areas including demand-side management, district energy and more recently, power generation. She is a MBA graduate from York University, Schulich School of Business, with an undergraduate degree in marketing and sales from Ecole Superieure de Commerce in France. She is also a LEED® Accredited Professional. Servanne is currently Project Development Manager for Dalkia Canada, responsible for developing new projects covering alternative financing and procurement in health care, district energy, biomass power and cogeneration. Dalkia is a major worldwide player in energy and infrastructure projects. Dalkia contributes to combating climate change by implementing energy efficiency measures, cogeneration, and renewable energy within its 118,000 energy centres.

  • Dalkia works along the biomass supply chain: design, build, finance, maintain, operate. Enters into agreements with forest industry and farmers for supply.
  • Has 1,365 megawatts installed capacity using 2 million tonnes/year biomass (78% forest, 15% recovered woody materials, 5% agricultural residues and energy crops), at 251 sites in 15 countries; biomass used for steam production for industrial processes, heating, electricity generation.
  • No need to pelletize the biomass if transporting ≤50 km (preferred maximum).
  • Dalkia's policy is not to secure biomass from land that could grow food. Dalkia seeks out industrial brownfields, for example, and enters into contracts for five, 10, 15 or 20 years (longer-term contracts preferred).
  • For Dalkia, steam is the main product; electricity is a byproduct. End-users include hospitals, universities, commercial and industrial facilities (pulp and paper, food and beverage), multi-unit residential buildings.
  • Combined heat and power (CHP) is particularly attractive and is Dalkia's primary focus – 85% efficiency. Standard boiler plant has only about 55% efficiency.
  • Driver in European Union is Renewable Energy Directive – 2020 targets of 20% CO2 emissions reduction, 20% lower primary energy consumption, increase in renewable energy to 20%.
  • Biomass risks/challenges include: high chlorine content; ash fusibility; security of biomass supply and storage; agronomy (e.g. fertilizer use).
Jim Wallbridge – SwitchGreen

Jim Wallbridge lives at Lansdowne in eastern Ontario. He was a crop farmer in the Winchester area until 2006. He is currently the contact person for SwitchGreen Inc., grower liaison with Hendrick Agrifoods Inc., as well as doing switchgrass promotion and grower contact with Hendrick Seeds. He started working with switchgrass at Hendrick Seeds five years ago.

  • Forman Greenhouses and Hendrick Agrifoods were seeking sustainable, renewable fuel sources for boilers, plants, offices. Switchgrass fits our value chain philosophy of providing growers with longer rotations combined with excellent soil-building characteristics, giving a return on investment for marginal lands.
  • Need to know the fuel specs in order to adjust combustion units to burn efficiently and control particulate emissions; technicals are in pace to accomplish this. No need to densify biomass except for home heating market and outdoor pellet boilers.
  • Focus is smaller users, within 50-100-kilometre radius.
  • Requirements to move forward: market knowledge (pellet manufacturer, consumer); relationship between cost of raw biomass and cost of processed product to consumer; distribution methods and costs; licensing laws and municipal bylaws; financing – capital investment required cannot jeopardize existing business.
Biomass End-Users: Discussion/Participant Input
  • There are only a few biomass projects under the Ontario Power Authority's (OPA's) Feed-in Tariff Program because the price ($0.138 /kWh) is not attractive.
  • Question asked re: the potential to feed syngas into the natural gas pipeline grid for electricity generation in order to avoid transportation costs: While syngas production is not forecast to come on-stream in the near term, OPG monitors its potential. Dalkia does not see syngas as promising at the present state of the technology.
  • The European Union provides a stable legal and political environment for biomass energy generation.
  • Agricultural biomass combustion seems less promising from an economic perspective compared to other biomass uses, e.g. bio-plastics, animal bedding.
  • Efficiency of shipping biomass to torrefaction plants at/near the deep-water ports on Lake Ontario : Lafarge looking at this closely; lower carbon footprint of marine shipping is attractive; however, torrefaction technology requires development. OPG agrees that torrefaction is in its infancy.
  • Consistent fuel greatly reduces handling problems.
  • How will low natural gas prices affect the future of the bioeconomy?
  • What will the potential be for shipping agricultural biomass pellets abroad?
  • Need to make a major effort to find local opportunities for biomass end use, minimizing processing and transportation.

Agricultural Biomass Storage Options: Speaker Highlights

Steve Clarke – OMAFRA
  • On-farm storage options include:
    • In the field – using plastic wrap ("Ag Bags," bale wrap)
    • Covered storage – variety of types
  • To maintain dry matter, covered indoor storage is best, followed by plastic wrap, net wrap, plastic twine and sisal twine.
  • Different densification methods have different storage requirements.
Don Nott – Nott Farms
  • Uses open-sided hay shed to store up to 4,000 tonnes of switchgrass; baling in spring (by then, moisture can be reduced to 7%).
  • Challenges: expensive to build; energy-intensive (to transport biomass into storage then take it out); fire risk.
  • Field-wrap and in-field storage in large square bales have advantages: less labour, handling and fuel use; ability to protect biomass from rain more quickly; direct delivery to end-user. Plastic wrap creates waste, but is recyclable.
  • Field-storage silage bags ("Ag Bags") are used by Willowlee Sod Farms (Kurt Vanclief).
  • Don uses a custom baler (large bales stacked three high); bucket-loader is required to move the product to covered storage.
  • Stacked uncovered storage is also possible; while a wet band forms around the edge, most stays dry.
Agricultural Biomass Storage Options: Discussion/Participant Input
  • On-farm storage is necessary; storage at sites zoned industrial is too expensive.
  • At Dalkia plants, there is only only 2-3 days' storage capacity; typically, biomass stored on farms, but depends on location/situation.
  • Not a major difference in cost of in-field versus covered storage; plastic wrap/in-field probably slightly cheaper.
  • What are the biomass quality losses associated with different storage options? (research need)
  • Potential for making bale wrap from bio-composites or natural fibre (removes need to un-wrap plastic bale-wrap).
  • Integrated approach: Potential to add solar photovoltaic cells to on-farm storage shed roofs as added income stream.
  • On-farm storage requirements can range from one week to one month, depending on buyer.

Feedstock and Processing Alternatives: Speaker Highlights

Fernando Preto – Natural Resources Canada

Dr. Fernando Preto received his B.A.Sc. in Chemical Engineering from the University of Toronto and his Ph.D. from Queen's University. Following graduation, he joined the Canadian Combustion Research Laboratory to pursue research on reducing emissions from combustion systems. He has followed this up with research projects on thermochemical conversion of biomass fuels, small-scale power generation and alternative energy for the greenhouse industry. He is currently Group Leader for Biomass Conversion in the CanmetENERGY Laboratories of Natural Resources Canada in Ottawa.

  • Combustion systems using biomass are commercially available in Canada in sizes from 2 kilowatts to 500 megawatts. 99% of Canadian-manufactured boilers are designed for wood; modifications to burn agricultural biomass are necessary.
  • No systems to generate power are available in Canada at less than 500 kilowatts. To be viable, a size of about 10 megawatts would be required.
  • Biomass burn characteristics (BTU/lb, ash, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, sulphur, total chlorine) provided for various agricultural residues, energy crops and wood.
  • Challenges for biomass suppliers: emission standards, lack of fuel standards, lack of trained personnel, commercial technologies available only for heat not small-scale power.
  • Challenges for biomass users: moisture, energy density and fuel handling, fuel composition (high ash, alkali and halogens), emissions and fouling, furnace design and operation (furnaces are typically designed for a specific fuel).
  • Observations from greenhouse energy research project (NRCan, OMAFRA, AAFC) at NRCan labs and 12 greenhouse farms with grate furnaces, comparing current base fuel (wood) with several agricultural residues:
    • On a mass basis, agricultural residues have similar energy content to wood, but fuel is high-volume, and low energy density requires special handling equipment and/or densification for combustion in conventional furnaces/boilers.
    • High ash and alkali content requires adaptation of furnace design and/or operating conditions to minimize ash fouling.
    • Harvest timing can reduce problem-causing elements.
    • Biomass fuels have high volatile/low fixed carbon content and so require appropriately sized combustion chambers to achieve complete combustion and low emissions.
    • Corn cobs and stover are not recommended due to high chlorine content; also, corn cobs are high in volatile organic carbon (VOCs).
Papiya Roy – School of Engineering, University of Guelph

Dr. Papiya Roy received her PhD in Chemical Engineering from IIT Delhi, India. Her research activities include fluidization, granulation, catalyst and biomass combustion. She is presently working as a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Guelph and has 8 publications in peer-reviewed journals and international conference proceedings. Her main tasks and responsibilities are characterization of biomass feedstocks, mainly agricultural residues, as the fuel for potential combustion. Her work involves herbaceous biomass combustion - related issues and corrosion caused by agglomeration and fouling due to ash chemistry. This advanced fuel characterization will help to predict ash fouling and slagging. This work focuses on the combustion system and ash behavior which will lead to a better understanding of the potential use of herbaceous fuel for combustion.

  • The main challenge of using biomass is its high percentage of alkali metals and high chlorine content, especially in herbaceous biomass.
  • Combustion equipment must operate at temperatures below the ash melting point, which is low for herbaceous biomass compared to wood. Combustion temperature significantly affects total yield of ash from biomass. The principal ash-forming constituents of herbaceous fuels are silicon and potassium.
  • Straw, cereals and grasses contain relatively high levels of chlorine, sulphur and alkali metals, which cause corrosion and deposit formation.
  • Ash chemical composition is provided for various agricultural biomass types and woody biomass. Ash behaviour and deposition tendencies can be predicted through slagging and fouling indices. Additives such as kaolin, dolomite, limestone, alumina, bauxite reduce slagging/fouling caused by alkalis.
  • Woody biomass has low ash content, very low sulphur content, high combustible content.
  • Fluidized beds are best suited to handle combustion issues because of their flexibility, stability, efficiency.
  • Silicon, calcium, potassium and phosphorus have direct influence on ash fusion and deposition in furnaces.
  • Chemical composition of biomass fuels, especially ash-forming elements, influences choice of combustion and process control technologies.
Scott Abercrombie – Gildale Farms

Scott Abercrombie is the owner of Gildale Farms, which is a farming operation that has recently transitioned into the 2nd generation of ownership. As part of this transition, the primary focus of the business has shifted away from traditional farming. Scott now manages the operation of a small-scale pelleting facility and is also growing Miscanthus as a fibre crop. Scott has a background in industrial controls and automation, and spent several years working in the automotive industry after graduating from the University of Western Ontario in a combined business and engineering program.

  • Operates a small-scale pelleting/briquetting operation (fuel, animal bedding) with direct delivery to end user – serves all of southwestern Ontario (residential, commercial, greenhouses).
  • Began by processing crop residues (abundant supply, farm community support, successfully harvested and processed), but limitations: performance of fuel, existing pellet stove technology, collection cost and nutrient replacement value of raw biomass. Premium grade wood pellets have < 1% ash and higher $/BTU; agricultural biomass pellets have 4% ash and lower $/BTU – need to match customer preference and heating equipment to fuel product.
  • Wood versus agricultural biomass feedstock specifications: Issues are cost, moisture content, raw material sizing, cleanliness (absence of foreign material, e.g. stones, dirt, metal).
  • Agricultural biomass challenges: Cash flow and storage requirements (seasonal availability of raw feedstocks, seasonality of pellet use for space heating); potential binder requirement for feedstocks with lower lignin content; abrasiveness of agricultural biomass (i.e. silicates reduce die life).
Animesh Dutta – School of Engineering, University of Guelph

Dr. Animesh Dutta is an Assistant Professor at the School of Engineering, University of Guelph. He has multi-faceted research experience in environmentally friendly energy options. Previously, he taught at the Asian Institute of Technology in Thailand and the Nova Scotia Agricultural College. Dr. Dutta specializes in torrefaction, combustion and gasification, with hands-on experience in boiler design and pilot plant operation, design and performance of various tests in laboratory-scale and pilot-scale units, thermal design and process development. Over the past decade, he has delivered innovative ideas in the areas of sustainable biomass energy technologies and heat transfer, with more than 85 technical papers in refereed journals and conference proceedings and as technical reports. His research interests include thermo-chemical conversion of biomass and agricultural residues, renewable and cleaner energy technologies, boiler design, design and assessment of advanced energy systems, life cycle analysis and thermodynamic optimization.

  • Torrefaction: Advantages of torrefied over raw fuel: higher density, dry and hydrophobic, cost savings in handling and processing (e.g. lower grinding costs), higher energy density (transportation cost savings), homogeneity, no bio-contamination. Technology appears promising. Market driven mainly by utilities, with potential for residential and industrial heating.
  • Technical challenges with torrefaction: It will not, alone, significantly reduce sulphur, chlorine and alkali concentrations in biomass.
  • Advantage of pelletizing then torrefying: two marketable products – pellets, torrefied fuel. Advantage of torrefying first: lower energy cost for hammer mill.
  • Most experience is with torrefied wood; 8 distinct technologies, and large differences observed in product properties and qualities.
  • Only results from pilot-scale torrefaction plants available (small companies with limited financial base – investor risk re: R&D and up-scaling); real operational data needed to reveal torrefaction performance and to validate that suppliers can deliver a product meeting utility specifications. All North American initiatives are still at pilot scale; R&D effort and financing needed. Remasco expected to have demonstration torrefaction plant (1 tonne/hour) in Ontario in 2011.
  • Uncertainties about large-scale torrefaction processing – handling, storage, milling, explosion risk, dust and odour emissions, combustion properties.
  • Gasification: One of best ways to optimize energy generation from biomass and obtain a standardized gas from very different materials. Main challenges: control of temperature in the reactor; and production of tar, which has to be removed from syngas before it can be used in internal combustion engines for electricity generation.
  • Demonstration projects, primarily using woody materials, are taking place mostly in Europe.
Feedstock and Processing Alternatives: Discussion/Participant Input
  • Chlorine: Wood typically has about 200 ppm, which is not usually a problem. Straw has hundreds of ppm and is not a significant problem; however, corn stover and cobs have 3,000-4,000 ppm, which presents problems with fouling and corrosion. Formation of dioxins can be problematic, and expensive to mitigate, in the range of 10,000-12,000 ppm chlorine. Dioxin research needed for feedstocks in the range of 3,000-4,000 ppm chlorine. Dioxins generally not a major concern for most feedstocks except corn stover and cobs.
  • Energy balance for pelleted fuel = 10:1; i.e. for every unit of energy to pellet the fuel, there are 10 units of energy in the biomass for the end user = good balance.
  • The potassium in switchgrass lowers the ash melting point – potential for fouling and clinker formation.
  • We are nowhere near commercialization for torrefied agricultural biomass. Challenges include controlling temperature, residence time and particle size.
  • A key challenge is to minimize transportation from farm to processing facility (e.g. 50-100 km maximum).
  • To build a viable biomass supply chain, we need processing capabilities of different sizes, ranging from mobile units to highly efficient processing plants.
  • Processing challenge with crop residues is contamination (stones, dirt, etc.), which can damage processing equipment and the fact that these materials tend to be corrosive to boiler systems.
  • Need to understand the challenges of gasification to produce the quality required for pipeline injection.
  • We should not be picking one conversion platform or one end use. Anaerobic digestion more suitable than combustion depending on biomass characteristics. Biodiesel discussions need to be closely linked with biomass combustion discussions.

Linking Technologies to Markets: Speaker Highlights

John Kelly – Erie Innovation and Commercialization

Dr. John Kelly, who holds a Master of Science from the University of Alberta and a PhD from the University of Guelph, is currently Vice-President of Erie Innovation and Commercialization with the Ontario Fruit & Vegetable Growers' Association. The mandate of this initiative is to diversify agriculture and food opportunities for the sand plains area of the South Central Ontario Region. He has a wealth of experience in both the private and public sectors. He has held various executive positions with start-ups and multinational companies, including KeliRo Company Inc., MaRS Landing, Ralston Purina, Rhone-Poulenc Canada Inc. and Aventis CropSciences Inc., as well as OMAFRA. Throughout his career, he has been focused on innovation development and implementation, actively advancing products and technologies in the agriculture, food, biotechnology, pharma and bioeconomy sectors.

  • What are the key questions that the Business Case Working Group needs to answer in order to objectively assess whether a business case can be made for agricultural biomass?
  • Economic elements:
    • Financial analysis at each step in the value chain
    • Business risk management
    • Impact on competing uses for agricultural biomass
    • Competitiveness with forestry biomass, US-sourced biomass, other energy sources
    • Investment required by farmers, aggregators, other participants throughout the supply chain
  1. Value chain analysis – returns: growers (new revenue stream), technology providers, aggregators, end users, consumer analysis and costing
  2. Competitive pressures
    • Source of biomass
      • Ontario vs. international sources
      • Forestry vs. agricultural sources
      • Unforeseen impacts (environmental, carbon balance, etc.)
    • End use of biomass
      • Large electricity generators (e.g. OPG), small generators
      • Competitive uses: biocomposites, bio-fibre, industrial uses (insulation, bedding, etc.), cellulosic ethanol
      • Carbon credits and their value
      • International markets
      • Do we know enough about all the end uses?
    • Investments in infrastructure have impacts on Ontario economy
  3. Cost of production
    • Seed/plug inputs, agronomic inputs (fertilizer, pest control, land preparation), fuel, labour, harvest, storage, capital costs, cost of money invested, risk management
    • One of main difficulties in getting growers to move on biomass is ensuring that the price for the biomass in bankable and guaranteed
    • Agricorp – crop insurance – much needs to be done
  4. Aggregation
    • Fuel, labour, storage, capital costs (equipment durability, capacity, location), cost of money invested, risk management
    • What about torrefaction?
  5. End market analysis
    • What is the real opportunity beyond OPG? And what do the end-users need (pellets vs. torrefied product)?
    • Feasibility of distributed biomass power generation, combined heat and power, integration with grain milling and vegetable greenhouses, etc.
    • Job creation, macro-economic benefits, price impact from distributed biomass power generation
    • Who are the price-setters? What is the impact of policy (e.g. preference/requirement/incentives for domestic supplies)?
    • What are the impacts of competitive fuel sources, especially natural gas – the 'elephant in the room' for the biomass business case
    • What are the impacts of other green energy sources (wind, solar, etc.)?
    • Can syngas generated from biomass get the same incentives available to anaerobic digestion systems?
    • There must be benefits along the entire value chain for this initiative to be successful. Are we capturing all of the right elements?

Conclusions Emerging from the Forum

Biomass end-users have a wide variety of technical requirements. A number of technologies for pre-processing biomass fuel to facilitate transportation, storage and combustion are available, from simple densification to torrefaction. Some technologies are already available and being used in Canada, such as commercial boilers for biomass combustion to produce heat; others appear to hold promise but are not yet developed to commercial scale, such as torrefaction.

As with biomass production, knowledge of the key technical issues in value chain development are reasonably well understood. However, without market certainty, biomass producers, technology providers and biomass processors are challenged to anticipate the needs of end users and take advantage of this new opportunity.

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Author: OMAFRA Staff
Creation Date: 17 August 2011
Last Reviewed: 17 August 2011