Biomass

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US researchers have maintained that miscanthus, long speculated to be the top biofuel producer, yields more than twice as much as switchgrass in the US using an open-source bioenergy crop database gaining traction in plant science, climate change, and ecology research.

"To understand yield trends and variation across the country for our major food crops, extensive databases are available — notably those provided by the USDA Statistical Service," said lead author Stephen Long, Gutgsell professor of Plant Biology and Crop Sciences at the University of Illinois.

He added: "But there was nowhere to go if you wanted to know about biomass crops, particularly those that have no food value such as miscanthus, switchgrass, willow trees, etc."

To fill this gap, researchers at the Energy Biosciences Institute at the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology created BETYdb, an open-source repository for physiological and yield data that facilitates bioenergy research. The goal of this database is not only to store the data but to make the data widely available and usable. | READ MORE.

 

The Cellulosic Sugar Producers Co-operative (CSPC) and its partners have almost finished putting all the pieces in place for a southern Ontario value chain to turn crop residues into sugars. Those pieces include a feasibility study, a technical-economic assessment and a collaboratively developed business plan. Some important steps still have to be completed, but they are aiming for processing to start in 2018.

Dec. 9, 2016 - The federal and provincial governments have teamed up to help implement a bioeconomy strategy for Northern Ontario.

The two senior levels of government are providing a total of $216,792 to help put a plan into action aimed at creating new renewable energy opportunities throughout the North.

Developed in 2015 by the Biomass North Development Centre, in partnership with the Union of Ontario Indians, the strategy will look to reduce policy and regulatory barriers for the industry, develop a skills and training road map for future workers and better inform the public and potential partners about biomass applications and concepts.

“This is an opportunity of partnerships and benefits for all of the North,” said Dawn Lambe, the biomass development centre's executive director. | READ MORE.

Dec. 1, 2016 - An Italian company is interested in turning biomass into a new southern Alberta industry. And the Alberta government is providing the data to show what would work.

Representatives from Alberta Economic Development and Trade, along with a spokesperson for Beta Renewables from Tortona, Italy, outlined the potential to Lethbridge County Council on Monday.

Earlier this year, the county was one of five Alberta jurisdictions to sign onto a formal biomass mapping project across the province. The study found 12 million tonnes of biomass available annually in the form of straw and other byproducts of the region’s grain and speciality crop production – plus 633,000 tonnes of waste from livestock production.

“This is good news,” Reeve Lorne Hickey said, as council members asked for more details.

For Lethbridge-area farms growing flax, one councillor pointed out, it could provide a way to get rid of flax straw – too strong to be used like other straw. | READ MORE.

The president of a new farm co-op says it's working to sign up 200 to 300 members to supply corn stalks and leaves, also known as stover, as well as wheat stalks, to a proposed new plant in Sarnia, Ont., that will turn the biomass into sugar. The Sarnia Observer reports. | READ MORE

August 10, 2016 - A UBC professor’s flax research could one day help Canadian farmers grow a car fender.

In a recent study, UBC researcher Michael Deyholos identified the genes responsible for the bane of many Canadian flax farmers’ existence; the fibres in the plant's stem.

“These findings have allowed us to zero in the genetic profile of the toughest part of this plant and may one day help us engineer some of that toughness out,” says Deyholos, a biology professor at UBC's Okanagan campus. “With further research, we might one day be able to help farmers make money off a waste material that wreaks havoc on farm equipment and costs hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars to deal with.”

As part of his research, Deyholos and his former graduate student at the University of Alberta dissected thousands of the plant’s stem under a microscope in order to identify which genes in the plant's make up were responsible for the growth of the stem, and which weren’t.

Due to the length of the Canadian prairie’s growing season, where flax is grown, farmers typically burn the stems, known as flax straw, as opposed to harvesting the material. In many European countries, flax straw is used as an additive in paper, plastics and other advanced materials such as those used in the production of automobiles.

Currently, Canadian flax is used only for the value of its seeds, which can be eaten or broken down into flaxseed oil. Flaxseed oil is used in the manufacturing of paints, linoleum, and as a key element in the manufacturing of packaging materials and plastics.

According to the Flax Council of Canada, Canada is one of the largest flax producers in the world with the nation’s prairie provinces cultivating 816,000 tonnes of the plant in 2014/15 on 1.6 million acres of land.Deyholos’ research was recently published in the journal Frontiers of Plant Science.

August 2, 2016 - The Canada and Manitoba governments are supporting a greener, more sustainable economy through the $1-million Biomass Energy Support Program.  

Applications are currently being accepted for this continuing program, which is funded under Growing Forward 2.  It includes $500,000 in grants to help coal users transition to renewable biomass fuel.  Another $500,000 is available for applied research projects that support the growth of the biomass industry in Manitoba.  

“The Government of Canada is committed to increasing the use of clean and sustainable technology,” says Canada's agriculture minister, Lawrence MacAulay.  “Making investments in the use of renewable biomass fuels through research and innovative practices will help the agricultural sector to be more competitive in a global economy, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

Funding can be used to convert coal heating systems to use biomass as the fuel source.  Current biomass manufacturers can also apply to expand their operations and meet consumer demands.  The maximum grant available is $50,000.  Eligible biomass fuels include:

  • agricultural residue such as wheat and flax straw, sunflower hulls or compacted biomass-like wheat and oat pellets;
  • forestry residues such as wood chips or salvaged timber; and
  • biomass crops such as switchgrass, willow and poplar.  

Projects with short turnaround times that support Manitoba’s coal reduction goal are given priority in the funding approval process.  The funding for applied research projects is intended to address gaps or identify opportunities for business and technology in the biomass sector. 

The deadline to apply for research and capital upgrade grants from the Biomass Energy Support Program is Sept. 30.  For more information about the program and how to apply, visit:
www.manitoba.ca/agriculture/innovation-and-research/biomass-energy-support-program.html

Last year, 21 projects received funding from this program.  Since 2012, it has invested approximately $3 million to help farms and businesses transition to biomass energy, leveraging additional contributions of approximately $3 million.  Projects have reduced the amount of coal used by over 10,000 tonnes and greenhouse gas emissions by over 15,000 tonnes annually. 

The federal and provincial governments are investing $176 million in Manitoba under Growing Forward 2, a five-year, federal-provincial-territorial policy framework to advance the agriculture industry, helping producers and processors become more innovative and competitive in world markets.  For more information, go to www.gov.mb.ca/agriculture/growing-forward-2

July 27, 2016 - Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions (AI Bio) has approved nearly $13 million in funding for 61 projects by researchers and companies. The grants are for the development of new industrial bioproducts or technologies using Alberta agriculture and forestry byproducts or other biomass.

The funding is provided under the Alberta Bio Future research and innovation program, the province's flagship bioindustrial initiative. It is aimed at diversifying and strengthening the provincial economy by adding value to Alberta's renewable resources.  

In addition to working toward reducing reliance on fossil fuel exports, there is another major benefit – bioproducts and bioindustrial technologies have the potential to partially or fully replace petroleum-based products and energy sources, thereby potentially lowering GHG emissions and reducing the carbon footprint.

"The economy of the next 30 years is going to be very different than the economy of the past 30 years, and Alberta's innovators are leading the way in finding solutions to future challenges and capitalizing on future opportunities," says Alberta's economic development and trade minister, Deron Bilous. "Using renewable materials in fascinating new ways, they are helping to diversify our economy and keep our province competitive."

The approved projects span the research and innovation continuum from early applied research to commercialization. In addition to AI Bio funding, 25 projects also have industry funding.

"The projects were carefully chosen in a rigorous, competitive process, based on criteria designed to maximize public benefit and advance the bioindustrial sector in Alberta," says Steve Price, CEO of AI Bio.  "Alberta is blessed with abundant biomass in our forests and crops, advanced infrastructure and universities, and highly qualified personnel in our academic community and bioindustrial sector. AI Bio works as a catalyst to bring these together to accelerate growth in an area with great potential."

The researchers and companies carrying out the projects are using a variety of biomass types to develop or produce advanced biomaterials, biofuels, biochemicals or biocomposites for a broad range of applications. Examples include biofuels for transport and bioproducts that can be used in the energy, construction, forestry or manufacturing sectors.

Numerous projects involve cellulose nanocrystals (CNC) for construction, manufacturing or medical applications. Alberta has one of only a number of facilities in the world capable of producing high-quality CNC, a high-performing, advanced biomaterial derived from cellulose (a compound in plants). The CNC research and innovation pilot plant is located at Alberta Innovates Technology Futures in Edmonton.

As fossil fuel-reliant remote communities prepare to scale back their consumption and transition to more sustainable energy sources, researchers and industry are looking to Europe for best practices and partnerships.

“We're looking at how we can collaborate for sustainability, sharing science, and leveraging best practices,” said Dawn Lambe, executive director for the Biomass North Development Centre in North Bay. “Their forest industry is incredibly sustainable and a key economic platform for them in economic hard times.”

In May, Lambe and a team of delegates from across the North headed to Sweden and Finland to meet with Nordic biomass experts, establish partnerships and exchange information. | READ MORE.

June 24, 2016 – One of the hottest topics for bioenergy producers, access and availability of fibre, took centre stage during an experts panel at the International Bioenergy Conference and Exhibition in Prince George, B.C.

Dave Peterson, ADM for Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, kicked off the panel discussion by discussing challenges and opportunities surrounding fibre availability and access.

Peterson discussed the various fibre supply challenges in B.C., including a decline in availability of sawmill residuals; declining fibre harvesting; constantly changing market conditions; the economically availability access to residual fibre and society’s changing desires around environmental stewardship.

He also touched upon the 13-point Forest Fibre Action Plan briefly, which includes recommendations for improving the harvesting of residuals through initiatives such as supplemental forest licenses for harvesting woody biomass.

One of the ways Peterson said is being reviewed to help supply bioenergy producers with additional fibre is through wildfire management by clearing stands affected by wildfire or at high risk of wildfire. Peterson added that there’s still a lot of challenges related to securing economically viable fibre from the bush for secondary users.

“In terms of harvest residuals, we’ve got a long way to go,” he said. “There’s lots of opportunities there… but only a small part of that opportunity is currently economic.”

Rob McCurdy, CEO of Pinnacle Renewable Energy discussed the utilization of fibre for wood pellets and stressed the need for finding an economically sustainable way to harvest residuals in the bush.“How can we get that fibre and use it effectively?” he said.

Pinnacle recently curtailed its pellet plant in Quesnel, B.C. due to a lack of fibre availability. The plant had been in operation since 1989 but was designed to produce pellets using sawmill residuals that are no longer available. McCurdy said his company is currently looking at ways to obtain a long-term fibre supply for the plant in a way that is economically viable so the company can justify investing the necessary upgrades to the facility to produce pellets using non-sawmill residuals.

“The key is what is that fibre basket going to look like so we can put the capital back in and bring that plant back up again?” he said. McCurdy also touched on the 13-point Forest Fibre Action Plan, stating that the industry has not been able to find a way to translate the action plan into a sustainable supply of fibre for pellet plant producers.“We made a bold move in the province when we took the beehive burners out,” he said, adding that the industry now needs a bold move for harvesting residuals.

June 16, 2016 – One of the hottest topics for bioenergy producers, access and available of fibre, took centre stage during an experts panel at the International Bioenergy Conference and Exhibition in Prince George, B.C.

Dave Peterson, ADM for Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, kicked off the panel discussion by discussing challenges and opportunities surrounding fibre availability and access.

Peterson discussed the various fibre supply challenges in B.C., including a decline in availability of sawmill residuals; declining fibre harvesting; constantly changing market conditions; the economically availability access to residual fibre and society’s changing desires around environmental stewardship.

He also touched upon the 13-point Forest Fibre Action Plan briefly, which includes recommendations for improving the harvesting of residuals through initiatives such as supplemental forest licenses for harvesting woody biomass.

One of the ways Peterson said is being reviewed to help supply bioenergy producers with additional fibre is through wildfire management by clearing stands affected by wildfire or at high risk of wildfire. Peterson added that there’s still a lot of challenges related to securing economically viable fibre from the bush for secondary users.

“In terms of harvest residuals, we’ve got a long way to go,” he said. “There’s lots of opportunities there… but only a small part of that opportunity is currently economic.”

Rob McCurdy, CEO of Pinnacle Renewable Energy discussed the utilization of fibre for wood pellets and stressed the need for finding an economically sustainable way to harvest residuals in the bush.

“How can we get that fibre and use it effectively?” he said.

Pinnacle recently curtailed its pellet plant in Quesnel, B.C. due to a lack of fibre availability. The plant had been in operation since 1989 but was designed to produce pellets using sawmill residuals that are no longer available. McCurdy said his company is currently looking at ways to obtain a long-term fibre supply for the plant in a way that is economically viable so the company can justify investing the necessary upgrades to the facility to produce pellets using non-sawmill residuals.

“The key is what is that fibre basket going to look like so we can put the capital back in and bring that plant back up again?” he said. 

McCurdy also touched on the 13-point Forest Fibre Action Plan, stating that the industry has not been able to find a way to translate the action plan into a sustainable supply of fibre for pellet plant producers.

“We made a bold move in the province when we took the beehive burners out,” he said, adding that the industry now needs a bold move for harvesting residuals.

- See more at: http://www.canadianbiomassmagazine.ca/news/fibre-availability-and-access-challenges-and-opportunities-5751#sthash.8loI9kld.dpuf

May 17, 2016- The Ontario Biomass Producers Co-Op is taking steps to add some structure to their industry.

The Co-op is implementing Central Desk Selling and a Check Off Collection Mechanism.

The Check-Off will generate funds to promote the co-operative.

READ MORE.

May 17, 2016 – An almost entirely accidental discovery by University of Guelph (UofG) researchers could transform food and biofuel production and increase carbon capture on farmland.

By tweaking a plant’s genetic profile, the researchers doubled the plant’s growth and increased seed production by more than 400 per cent. The findings were published in the March 2016 issue of Plant Biotechnology Journal.

The team studied Arabidopsis, a small flowering plant often used in lab studies because of its ease of use and its similarity to some common farm crops. They found that inserting a particular corn enzyme caused the plant’s growth rate to skyrocket.

“Even if the effects in a field-grown crop were less, such as only a tenth of what we’ve seen in the lab, that would still represent an increase in yield of 40 to 50 per cent, compared with the average one to two per cent a year that most breeding programs deliver,” says Michael Emes, a professor in the department of molecular and cellular biology (MCB).

He says the team’s finding could boost yields of important oilseed crops such as canola and soybean, as well as crops such as camelina, increasingly grown for biofuels.

Larger plants would capture more atmospheric carbon dioxide without increasing the amount of farmland, Emes says. ”Farmers and consumers would benefit significantly in terms of food production, green energy and the environment. The ramifications are enormous.”

The finding came almost by chance. Studying the enzyme’s effect on starch, the researchers noticed that their genetically engineered plants looked different and much larger in photos taken by lead author Fushan Liu, a former post-doctoral MCB researcher.

“That’s when we realized that we were looking at something potentially much more important,” says Ian Tetlow, an MCB professor and study co-author.

Although genetic engineering led to more flowers and pods containing seeds, it left the seed composition unchanged.“The seeds are where we would get the oil from, and consistent composition is important so that the function and use of the oil isn’t changed,” Tetlow says.

The researchers plan to test canola and other crops. Field tests and analysis with industry and government will likely take several years.“This could have enormous implications for agriculture, carbon capture, food production, animal feedstocks and biodiesel,” Emes says.

“These findings are without parallel, and we came to them almost by accident. The reason we started the work was to test some ideas in basic science. It just goes to show that you never know where that science will take you.”

Nobody is more familiar with the fight against weed pressure than organic farmers, but one weed control strategy that works in organic settings might be just as beneficial for conventional growers, according to a Laval University researcher. The secret is mulch.

Caroline Halde, a professor in the department of plant science at Laval University in Quebec, says cover cropping for weed control is a proven strategy in organic studies. But she’s also had plenty of interest from conventional no-till growers in the use of cover cropping.

“I’ve had no-till farmers come to me who are working with cover crops more and more, and now they are ‘almost organic’ because they use very little inputs in their cropping systems,” she says. “And now they want to make the switch because they’re almost organic but don’t get the premium.”

But mulch-based weed control takes cover cropping one step further. In year one, a cover crop is planted as green manure. In year two, a cash crop is planted directly into the mulch, with the mulch serving as the grower’s only form of weed control.

Halde, working under the supervision of Martin Entz, a professor of plant sciences at the University of Manitoba, completed a study investigating the use of mulches in an organic high-residue reduced tillage system near Carman, Man., in 2013. In the study, barley, hairy vetch, oilseed radish, sunflower and pea were used as cover crops, then planted with wheat.

The best cover crop for weed control and cash crop yield was hairy vetch or a barley-hairy vetch mixture.

“Green manure mulches with hairy vetch were effective at reducing weed biomass by 50 per cent to 90 per cent in the no-till spring wheat in 2011 and 2012, compared to other mulches,” Halde concluded.

The method is not a magic bullet. Halde says high cover crop biomass is key to achieving good mulch that will effectively choke out weeds the following year.

“First, you have to have a good establishment of your cover crop – that’s rule number one,” she says. Poor or excessively wet weather in the spring might hamper cover crop growth. “And another thing is to choose fields that have low weed seed banks, or at least for some particular weeds, particularly wild oats.” In Halde’s study, wild oats and perennial weeds, such as dandelion and Canada thistle, made for challenging conditions.

Halde’s study relied on removing a field from production for one full year each cycle, but she says the payoffs can be rewarding. In Western Canada, the benefits of such a system involve water conservation as well as weed control. In Eastern Canada, removing herbicides from a field for a year would also be a major boon for growers nervous about herbicide resistance. “That would be a great advantage, because we see more and more herbicide-resistant weeds in Eastern Canada,” she says.

But Halde is currently seeking funding for a study in Eastern Canada on the use of fall cover crops used as mulch in the spring and planted with short-season cash crops – a system which would keep fields in production, so growers do not have to lose a year each cycle.

Biomass is key
Carolyn Marshall, a PhD student at Dalhousie University, is currently studying the impacts of no-till green manure management on soil health in organic grain rotations on two sites – at Carman, Man., under the supervision of Martin Entz, and at the Dalhousie Agricultural Campus in Truro, N.S., under the supervision of Derek Lynch. The project, which is funded by the Organic Science Cluster through Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC), began in 2013 and will conclude this year.

She says cover cropping shows enormous promise for weed control in both organic and conventional systems. “I would love to see more use of cover crops in all systems. I think they can solve all kinds of problems,” she says.

Marshall’s project is focused on determining how green manure termination method affects soil health in organic grain rotations, with three tillage intensities applied on all plots: no-till, minimum tillage and spring and fall tillage.

At Carman, Marshall’s team is employing a four-year rotation of hairy vetch-wheat-fall rye-soybean plus a red clover-red clover-wheat-soybean rotation. At Truro, the experiment is testing two green manures – pea/oat, and hairy vetch/barley, each followed by a wheat-fall rye-soybean rotation.

In the first round at Truro, Marshall says, “We had really good growth of the green manure. Some plots got up to 10 tonnes per hectare of biomass, and it was really effective at stamping out the weeds.”

When the experiment was repeated in 2014, a dry spring resulted in limited growth and very thin mulch. “The weeds went berserk in the no-till plots,” Marshall says. “Weed control seems to really depend on getting enough biomass to get a thick enough mulch, and that really depends on the weather.”

Termination methods matter, too: when mulches were mowed in the fall at Truro, they decomposed, leaving too little mulch on the soil surface in the spring. When a roller crimper was used instead, the cover crops continued to grow until winterkilled, resulting in heavy mulch cover in the spring.

“Researchers in North Dakota, Georgia and New England are also finding that if you don’t get enough biomass to suppress the weeds, they’ll take over your cash crop and cause a lot of problems in a very short time,” she says.

It’s early days for this research, but both Halde and Marshall are enthusiastic about the potential for mulch-based weed control in organic and conventional systems alike. “In conventional systems you can use different crops to get more consistent mulch levels, which has a lot of potential to help with long-term control,” says Marshall.

 

 

 

 

March 15, 2105 - Ontario mushroom growers can substitute switchgrass for wheat straw when they’re growing their crops without impacting yield or quality, while also reducing their production costs.

That’s the outcome of a research project led by Mushrooms Canada and funded through the Ontario Farm Innovation Program (OFIP).

“Ontario’s mushroom growers have encountered the perfect storm regarding raw materials for the production of mushroom growing medium, known as mushroom substrate, so identifying substitutes for the traditional ingredients has become a high priority,” explains Ryan Koeslag, Executive Vice President of Mushrooms Canada.

Standard raw materials are wheat straw, poultry litter, horse stable bedding, gypsum and water. For maximum mushroom production, substrate has to contain both a source of carbon - wheat straw, hay or stable bedding – and nitrogen from poultry litter or stable bedding.

“Since 2012, wheat straw has become scarce because farmers are growing less wheat and using varieties with shorter stems resulting less straw. Poultry litter is increasingly being used as fertilizer, and stable bedding is in short supply because the horse-racing industry has been declining,” Koeslag adds.

Switchgrass, a native perennial grass, was identified as a potential wheat straw substitute for mushroom growers, and a series of field trials were conducted in the fall of 2014 using concentrations of 15, 30 and 40 per cent switchgrass in the substrate.

At 40 per cent switchgrass, mushroom production ranged from 91 to 120 per cent of the amount of production using only wheat straw, and the production of all switchgrass crops fell within the normal range of wheat grass crops, the research showed.

As well, no distinguishable difference in quality was found between mushrooms grown in switchgrass and those grown in wheat straw substrate.

“Based on the observations during the study, we’ve found that replacing up to 40 per cent of wheat straw in the mushroom substrate with switchgrass has no impact on the quantity or quality of mushrooms harvested,” says Koeslag. “This opens up new opportunities for our growers, as well as possible new markets for Ontario farmers who are growing switchgrass, creating a potential win-win on both sides.”

Once established and properly maintained, switchgrass will reach its maximum production level by the third growing season and remain productive for an indefinite period. The crop is cut in the fall and either wrapped into bales right away or left in the field over the winter and baled in the spring.

Ontario accounts for 50 per cent of Canada’s annual 91,000 tonne mushroom production, and national consumption sits at approximately 1.6 kilograms per person per year.

March 7, 2016 - A long-term research project at Laurentian University is showing promise in using mine tailings to grow crops for biomass.

Over the last three to four years, Peter Beckett and Graeme Spiers, both associate professors at Laurentian University in Sudbury, have headed up the project, which examines the science behind using waste pulp and paper material, over top of mine tailings fields, to produce crops that could eventually be harvested and manufactured into biomass pellets.

“The whole idea, essentially, is, rather than just taking the tailings and wasteland at mine sites and putting grass down, to do something useful with them,” says Beckett, who’s also a founding member of Sudbury’s VETAC (Vegetation Enhancement Technical Advisory Committee). “In this case, it’s to try and see whether we could grow crops that one could make into energy fuels.”

Researchers have partnered with Glencore and Vale in Sudbury and Goldcorp in Timmins, which have provided the tailings sites. Wood waste has been brought in from paper mills to top the tailings with organic material, and a local farmer has provided the agricultural equipment and expertise.

READ MORE.

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