Much has been theorized and written about the potential of using organic waste to make energy. This energy from waste, or bioenergy, is fuel produced from natural sources, including a variety of organic matter previously discarded by forest industries or agriculture, such as bark, branches, grain and manure. Given Alberta’s reputation as a world leader in fossil fuel production, you might be surprised to learn that biofuel is crucial to the success of many Alberta industries.

Between 2007 and 2011, more than 80 Alberta companies received a total of almost $150 million from the Alberta Bio-refining Commercialization and Marketing Development Program and the Bioenergy Infrastructure Development Program. Projects resulting from these grants supported infrastructure and the production of a variety of biofuel types, including:

  • Ethanol used to mix with gasoline
  • Biodiesel
  • Biogas containing 70% methane
  • Bio-digestors that use heat to cause anaerobic bacteria to create biogas

Here are some great examples of how fuel derived from waste is making a difference in the province.

Slave Lake Pulp

Slave Lake Pulp, in Mitsue, Alberta, uses a human-made pond the size of three hockey rinks to initiate the process for converting micro-organisms to biogas consisting mainly of methane and carbon dioxide. The mixture is then converted to green energy to drive three 3-megawatt engine generators, offsetting more typical fossil fuel consumption. The $40 million project, which was completed in 2016, uses scrubbing tanks to biochemically convert hydrogen sulfide in the biogas to sulfate and sulfuric acid. This bio-methanation power generation project uses an ADI Systems Bulk Volume Fermenter with a low-rate digestion process, which has little impact on company resources, and was more economical to purchase, although it did require the space necessary for the larger footprint. According to ADI Systems, Slave Lake Pulp has been able to reduce electrical costs by more than 40 per cent, lower chemical usage by up to 75 per cent, and reduce sludge generation and disposal requirements by more than 20 per cent. ADI Systems is a Canadian company based out of Fredericton.

Alberta-Pacific Forest Industries

Alberta-Pacific Forest Industries, near Boyle in Northern Alberta, combusts bark and other residuals from the mill to create enough steam to drive three large turbines, generating up to 98 megawatts of electricity every hour, and enough energy to run the plant as well as 17,000 households each year. Also, other new products like bio-methanol processed from waste wood during the pulping process can be used for pulp whitening and sold for use in products like antifreeze and biodiesel.

West Fraser Mill

Hinton’s West Fraser Mill is another mill in the province that is generating energy from wood that would otherwise go to waste. Rather than relying on natural gas, the mill now uses traditionally discarded parts of trees and process by-products to produce enough energy to operate the plant and contribute some excess to the provincial energy grid. Through the combustion process, the company produces 260,000 megawatt hours of electricity each year. As the demand for paper continues to diminish, operations like West Fraser are continually looking for ways to increase efficiencies, reduce costs and sustain jobs in rural communities.

Lethbridge Biogas LP

Lethbridge Biogas LP in Southern Alberta turns all types of organic waste, from decaying vegetables to livestock manure, into useable energy. The $30 million facility is one of the largest in Canada and can convert more than 100,000 tonnes of waste into enough electricity to power 2,800 homes annually. Using anaerobic digestion tanks to ferment organic matter provided by regional farmers and grocery chains, biogas is collected and used as fuel for electrical generation. Any organic matter that remains after processing can be used as fertilizer by farmers. Not only does reduce the amount of waste sent to area landfills, but the company also estimates that it will reduce the quantity of greenhouse emission by more than 220,000 tonnes by 2020.

Lethbridge biogasThe biogas facility in Lethbridge

Alberta Newsprint Company (ANC)

Alberta Newsprint Company (ANC) in the Whitecourt area is taking a different approach to generating efficiencies in energy production. Through their Whitefox Project, ANC is creating a centralized treated waste-water system to provide regional oil and gas companies with the infrastructure to use effluent water from pulp and paper manufacturing, rather than fresh water. This process will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 35 per cent and eliminate the use of freshwater equivalent to more than 2,400 Olympic-sized swimming pools in the oil and gas sector.

PowerWood Canada Corp

PowerWood Canada Corp is building the first of four biomass generation plants in La Crete, Alberta. By offsetting the use of fossil fuel by using the waste from sawmills and other forest processing companies in the area, the 41.5-megawatt project will be greenhouse gas neutral as any carbon dioxide it produces is to be offset by the absorption of the same biomass by the trees when they are growing. The plant is expected to create up to 50 full-time forestry jobs and a variety of other technical positions related to plant operations. More importantly, it is expected to provide enough electricity to power 30,000 homes.

Moving Forward

While industry is frequently maligned for its impact on the environment, it can also lead the way when it comes to recycling waste for the development of renewable energy. Doing so can reduce costs, sustain jobs and minimize a company's carbon footprint. Renewable energy sources are becoming an increasingly important part of creating a more resilient and diversified economy, not only by infiltrating existing industries, but also by becoming viable businesses in their own right.