Sometimes big ideas with tremendous impact start with small conversations. Such is the case with UBC’s Bioenergy Research and Demonstration project.

“The origin of the project was a conversation I had with Jonathan Rhone, President and CEO of Nexterra, an excellent local company that has developed a biomass gasification technology for heat and power,” says Professor John Grace, former Acting Director of UBC’s Clean Energy Research Centre (CERC), “There was an opportunity to have UBC, the company, and the environment benefit from collaborating on a demonstration project on campus. I was delighted that so many sectors of the university came together to realize the project.”

Now under construction

The UBC Bioenergy Research and Demonstration Project broke ground in November 2010. When operational, it will generate enough clean electricity to power 1,500 homes, reduce the university’s natural gas consumption by up to 12 per cent and eliminate up to 4,500 tonnes of greenhouse-gas emissions per year—the equivalent of taking 1,100 cars off the road.

Premier Gordon Campbell and UBC President Professor Stephen Toope announced the project (a partnership with Vancouver-based Nexterra and GE Water & Power) in February 2010. It will be the first North American demonstration of a new biomass-fueled heat-and-power application that combines Nexterra’s gasification system with GE’s Jenbacher engines. Biomass refers to renewable organic matter, such as wood or wood waste and organic components of municipal and industrial wastes.

“This project demonstrates UBC’s leadership in sustainability and our concept of the campus as a living laboratory,” says Toope. “This groundbreaking partnership is helping UBC achieve its sustainability goals through the convergence of research, operations and industry in the bioenergy sphere.”

Fueling the campus, and learning

The project at UBC’s Vancouver campus will include the complete biomass gasification system, research laboratories, and a building made of a demonstration lumber product. The cogeneration system will produce two megawatts of cost-effective clean electricity and will also generate enough steam to displace up to 12 percent of the natural gas that UBC uses for campus heating. It will also provide research and learning opportunities for faculty and students, yield valuable new knowledge in the clean energy sector and establish new global standards for bioenergy system performance.

“This innovative approach allows the accelerated development, demonstration and commercialization of clean-energy technology for domestic use and global export,” says Professor David Wilkinson, CERC Director. “The UBC campus is a contained community, which allows better control and monitoring of installed clean-energy technologies; it provides an ideal analytical model for research and learning and will also provide municipalities with data to set better standards for future bioenergy operations.”

Collaboration is key

UBC research collaborators include CERC; the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability; the Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability; the Faculty of Applied Science and the Sauder School of Business.

Funding support for the project comes from the BC Bioenergy Network, Natural Resources Canada’s Clean Energy Fund, Sustainable Development Technology Canada, the Province of British Columbia, FPInnovations and UBC.

UBC is one of the most sustainable postsecondary campuses in the world, earning top grade in the Sustainable Endowments Institute’s College Sustainability Report Card. It is the first Canadian university to announce it has achieved targets set by the Kyoto Protocol and to set bold greenhouse-gas reduction targets for the future.

“The project demonstrates that UBC is willing and able to work with local companies to do research and provide leadership in responding to important environmental issues,” says Grace.


Original article appeared in UBC Engineering's Ingenuity, Spring Summer 2010 issue.