Confederation College is experimenting with a new heating solution that could have implications across the region.
The Bio-Energy Learning and Research Centre at the college is about to begin a study using biomass burning. The study will see biomass provide about 80 per cent of the heat for the Shuniah and REACH building.
The trial study is expected to determine the feasibility of using a similar system in remote northern communities.
TD Bank Group on Friday helped finance the first phase of the study with $100,000.
The college expects to be producing close to one megawatt of heat energy per day during the coldest periods of the year, which manager of applied research Brian Kurikka expects to be a reliable test for uses by smaller communities.
“With one megawatt of heat output for our facility, that’s a good representation of a district heating system for a small community,” Kurikka said.
“Based on a community of 400 to 500 people, what are their requirements for district heating? It could be in that one megawatt range so this is a really good example.”
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Confederation College is partnering and collaborating with existing biomass projects that were running at Lakehead University and North Bay’s Nipissing University.
Lakehead masters’ student Mike Hosszu is in the middle of studying the receptiveness of remote communities to renewable energy sources.
In addition to the positive environmental effects, he believes there are significant economic benefits to communities adopting biomass rather than bringing in outside fossil fuels.
“It helps communities become more sustainable because if you’re harvesting most of your energy from sources that are local you are not importing diesel,” Hosszu said.
“It reduces the transportation costs environmentally and financially and it also becomes a business case for those communities.”
The college study will use urban forest waste, such as chips, pruning and fallen trees as fuel for the boiler.
That will represent a significant cost savings from more conventional heating methods.
“A good rule of thumb that seems to maintain consistent is that heating with wood pellets is 50 per cent of the cost of heating with fuel oil,” Kurikka said.
The biomass components will be tested in labs at Lakehead University before being burned in the boiler to measure heat extraction.
Confederation College president Jim Madder said the first phase of the study is to begin immediately and added the research boiler is scheduled for completion within a month.
That will enable the study to begin almost immediately with results from the first phase expected in about a year.
The college is collaborating with Lakehead University and North Bay’s Nipissing University on the venture as they explore the feasibility of a heat source that is commonly used in other areas of the world, but rare in Canada.
“Biomass is commonly used in Europe but in North America biomass is very rarely used for heat,” Madder said. “As an actual project, this is quite unique.”