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Expansion of innovative UBC heat and power facility granted federal investment

In Canada, the University of British Columbia (UBC) has announced that the planned CA$20.4 million expansion of the innovative Bioenergy Research and Demonstration Facility (BRDF) at its Vancouver campus will receive up to CA$7.6 million in support from the federal government’s low-carbon economy fund.

First operational in 2012, the Bioenergy Research and Demonstration Facility (BRDF) is a partnership between the University of British Columbia (UBC), Vancouver-based Nexterra Energy Corporation and GE Power and Water. The facility is a Campus as a Living Laboratory project integrating UBC’s core academic mandate (research and teaching) with the University’s infrastructure and business operations.

The Bioenergy Research and Demonstration Facility (BRDF) currently processes two to three truckloads of chipped clean wood waste, or biomass, daily. The biomass is screened for oversized and non-woody material and then gasified into a gaseous fuel called synthesis gas (syngas).

Oxygen is added to the syngas in the Oxidiser which then combusts and the hot exhaust gas is then directed into the boiler, ultimately producing steam and hot water that is distributed to campus buildings through the Academic District Energy System (ADES), providing energy to heat campus buildings and to heat domestic hot water systems.

The BRDF provides heat to campus buildings, creates operational efficiency, saves money, and reduces greenhouse gas emissions — by re-purposing clean wood waste from other outside processes and sources.

Use of clean wood waste has also allowed us to significantly shift away from our operational dependence on natural gas, divesting campus reliance on fossil fuels. The environmental and economic benefits are impressive and will only increase. The BRDF already displaces around 8,500 tons of emitted fossil fuel-based CO2 annually and has contributed a 14 percent reduction in UBC’s GHG emissions compared to 2007 emission levels. Overall, UBC has reduced GHG emissions by 38 percent since 2007 while the campus and student population has grown and will continue to drive toward further reductions through improved energy performance of current and new buildings and behaviour change programs, said John Metras, Associate Vice-President of Facilities at UBC.

Add another 12 MW thermal

The BRDF currently produces 8.4 MW of thermal energy, which accounts for 25 percent of the total annual thermal campus heating and hot water needs each year and 100 percent in the summer months. UBC will use the federal money to purchase and install a new 12 MW biomass fuelled hot water combustion boiler by the late fall of 2020.

The investment in this expansion is a major component of UBC’s Climate Action Plan and greatly assists in advancing toward UBC’s target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 67 percent (below a 2007 baseline). Expanding the BRDF was the number one recommendation coming out of UBC’s update to its climate action plan, said John Madden, Director of Sustainability and Engineering for UBC Campus and Community Planning.

Once the new boiler is operational, the BRDF will increase its heating production capacity to 20 MW and will provide up to 70 percent of annual thermal production for UBC’s hot water district energy system, halving its current dependency on natural gas, eliminating an average of 14 500 tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions on an annual basis, and saving more than CA$1million in annual operating costs. It also reduces UBC’s reliance on natural gas to heat the campus, improving the university’s operational resilience.

The BRDF is carbon neutral, as the carbon dioxide emitted by the system is classified as biogenic emissions which would have been released naturally during decomposition.  The UBC Bioenergy Research and Demonstration Facility (BRDF) only uses clean wood waste from regional wood product manufacturing and municipal plant trimmings as opposed to less sustainable biomass grown specifically for the production of biomass fuel as is the case in some other parts of the world. It’s so encouraging that wood waste from furniture manufacturers, sawmill refuse, municipal tree trimmings, and other wood waste can be transformed by this facility into clean energy for campus use noted Dave Woodson, UBC Managing Director of Energy and Water Services.

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