BC research facility to develop bioenergy products, systems

A new research and demonstration facility aimed at accelerating the development of low-carbon, market-ready bioenergy products and carbon-negative energy systems has opened at the University of British Columbia (UBC).

Building on work conducted at UBC’s Clean Energy Research Centre (CERC) over the past 15 years, the $8 million (€5.3 million) Biorefining Research and Innovation Centre (BRIC) will bring together top academic researchers and industry partners to create cutting-edge technologies that could significantly reduce reliance on fossil fuels.

“There is enormous potential for biomass like BC forest waste to help meet both local and global renewable energy needs,” said Dr Xiaotao Bi, director of BRIC and CERC and a professor of chemical and biological engineering at UBC.

“BRIC offers a unique opportunity not only to transform organic materials into low-carbon, high-value fuels and other bioproducts but to do so at a demonstration-scale in a virtually risk-free environment.”

The global bioproducts sector will be worth an estimated $1.3 trillion (€868 billion) by 2030, yet the development of refined commercial bioproducts, such as RNG, liquid biofuels and biocarbon, has been ‘hampered’ by a lack of proven, scalable processing technologies and inadequate policy support and incentives, said Bi.

BRIC aims to minimise the risks surrounding bioproduct development by first assessing each candidate technology for technical effectiveness and economic potential. Then, working with partner companies, the UBC team will create prototypes and demonstrate their ability to produce first-class bioproducts at scale. The projects will include:

  • Advanced two-stage fluidised bed gasification technologies to convert forest, agricultural and municipal waste into low-carbon biofuels (e.g. a novel two-stage fluidised bed gasification pilot plant for future commercial-scale demonstration at a BC pulp and paper mill);

  • Novel microwave-assisted fluidised bed catalytic pyrolysis technology to improve the quality of two intermediate products in the biofuel production process: bio-oil (a potential petroleum substitute) and biochar (a carbon sink, soil conditioner and reducing agent);

  • Novel horizontal pulsating fluidised bed torrefaction technology that will produce second-generation (torrefied) wood pellets for energy-intense applications (e.g. power plants and metallurgical processing).

“By using biomass residues to their full potential, BC could cut greenhouse gas emissions by up to 15% of its 2005 levels and its consumption of fossil fuels by nearly a third,” commented Bi.

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