This UBC facility produces renewable energy for the campus using wood waste biomass, which helps reduce UBC’s GHG emissions and supports research projects on innovative clean energy systems.
Like many communities around the world, UBC is striving to meet its energy needs while reducing its impact on the environment. The UBC Bioenergy Research Demonstration Facility (BRDF) responds to this challenge while demonstrating small-scale power production that is relevant and replicable in other communities. In addition to generating energy for the UBC campus, this facility is also a Campus as a Living Lab project integrating the University’s core academic mandate of research and teaching with infrastructure and operations.
Turning wood waste into thermal energy
Located at the UBC Vancouver campus, the Bioenergy Research and Demonstration Facility is an energy generation facility that processes renewable biomass sourced from urban wood waste and transforms it into synthesis gas (syngas) to generate thermal energy for heating campus buildings. In addition to the thermal system, the facility houses a biomass combined heat and power demonstration system that originally employed the syngas, after conditioning and filtering it from impurities, to fuel a cogeneration engine. This demonstration technology was in operation for 450 hours before it was stopped due to an equipment failure, which was not economically feasible to repair or replace. The cogeneration engine is currently fueled by a mix of natural gas and renewable natural gas.
BRDF produces 8.4 MW of thermal energy, which accounts for 25-32% of the total campus heating and hot water needs each year and 100% in the summer months, as well as 2 MW of electrical energy, which accounts for 5% of the total campus electricity requirements each year. The building that houses this facility features an innovative mass timber structure, consisting of cross-laminated timber (CLT) floor, walls and roof, and glue laminated (glulam) columns and beams attached through steel connectors. This is one of the first industrial buildings in Canada to be constructed with CLT panel technology fabricated locally, mostly from regionally sourced lumber. The building structure and the facility operations are available for public viewing through the building’s glass walls.
Reducing greenhouse gas emissions
The BRDF is a key contributor to UBC’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction efforts through switching from natural gas use to biomass and reducing reliance on fossil fuels. Furthermore, the biomass used at BRDF consists of ground and chipped wood waste mainly from sawmill residuals and municipal trimmings that would otherwise go to a landfill. The amount of carbon dioxide released by the wood waste used as fuel is the same as would be released if it was left to decompose in the landfill but with the benefit of producing energy, which makes this process carbon neutral. The facility displaces around 8,500 tons of emitted fossil fuel-based CO2 annually and has contributed a 14% reduction in UBC’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions compared to emission levels from 2007. In total, UBC has reduced GHG emissions by 34% from 2007 levels, the year in which the University met targets established by the Kyoto Protocol.
The building’s structure contains around 698 cubic meters of mass timber that store 627 tons of CO2. According to the Canadian Wood Council Carbon Calculator, choosing a mass timber structure for this building avoided the emission of 243 metric tons of CO2, the equivalent of taking 184 cars off the road for a year. By showcasing the application of CLT panel construction for an industrial building, BRDF became an example of a viable alternative for non-combustible structures.
Integrating research, operations and education
Winner of the International District Energy Association (IDEA) Award for Innovation, UBC’s Bioenergy Research and Demonstration Facility, as the name states, integrates research, operations and innovative technologies in one place. The on-site laboratory within BRDF allows researchers to use the biomass supply, syngas, and by-products for research purposes, as well as using the facility as a case study to advance bioenergy production. Likewise, incorporating the demonstration of an innovative system in BRDF promoted the creation of research studies, in collaboration with industry partners, to improve the technology for future applications.
The BRDF has engaged students, researchers, faculty and staff on all levels to learn about UBC’s energy systems and further their studies. More than 1,000 people tour the biomass facility each year to learn about the technology, the building and how this unique facility supports campus life. This integration of operations and academics challenges the campus community to work across traditional boundaries and sectors to affect change, which is what this Campus as a Living Lab project strives to achieve.
Resources & Research
Theses & Dissertations
- Forest residues to energy: local air quality, health risks and greenhouse gas emissions [Petrov, 2018]
- Bioenergy supply chain optimization - decision making under uncertainty [Zamar, 2017]
- Red mud as an iron-based catalyst for catalytic cracking of naphthalene [Madadkhani, 2016]
- From theory to practice: an analysis of transformative social innovation at the University of British Columbia [Pajouhesh, 2016]
- UBC Living Lab: Innovation in accelerating the adoption for sustainable technologies for campus infrastructure [Save, 2014]
Reports & Publications
- In-depot upgrading the quality of fuel chips for a commercial gasification plant [Oveisi, et al., 2017]
- Optimization of sawmill residues collection for bioenergy production [Zamar et al., 2017]
- Impact assessment of biomass-based district heating systems in densely populated communities. Part II: Would the replacement of fossil fuels improve ambient air quality and human health? [Petrov et al., 2017]
- Impact assessment of biomass-based district heating systems in densely populated communities. Part I: Dynamic intake fraction methodology [Petrov et al., 2015]
- Biomass LCA for BRDF
- Bioenergy & the UBC Farm
- Fuel sourcing for BRDF
Additional information on the Bioenergy Research and Demonstration Facility and its operation can be found on the following UBC websites:
You can learn more about the research UBC does on bioenergy at the UBC Biomass and Bioenergy Research Group website.
UBC Wood Building Tours
UBC Vancouver campus has a larger portfolio of mass timber buildings. Take a self-guided tour using the Sustainability Walking Map or book a Green Building Tour. You can also learn more about UBC mass timber buildings on the UBC Mass Timber Buildings Factsheet.