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Ontario bioenergy crop pilot project begins

March 29, 2010 - Ontario Power Generation (OPG), Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) and Canadian Biofuel are joining forces to investigate biomass options for supplementing - and eventually replacing - coal at some OPG electricity generating stations by 2014.


November 30, 1999
By Treena Hein

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March 29, 2010 – Ontario Power Generation (OPG), Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) and Canadian Biofuel are joining forces to investigate biomass options for supplementing – and eventually replacing – coal at some OPG electricity generating stations by 2014.

The ‘Project to Commercialize Agricultural Biomass for Combustion Energy’ will see between 20 and 40 farmers selected to grow 900 acres of biomass fuel crops over the next few years. The crops will be evaluated for yield, economic feasibility, and environmental aspects.

The project’s steering committee is co-chaired, with shared meeting costs, by OPG and OMAFRA. It includes representatives from farm organizations, government, academia, and industry.

“This is an exciting project that the OFA has characterized as ‘transformational’ in that it involves a new market for farm crops and allows the agricultural sector to have a role in greenhouse gas reduction,” says OFA policy research group manager David Armitage. “If the markets for ag-biomass as a fuel source materialize, it is in the realm of possibility that the farm-gate value may reach $100 million within five years, and potentially double in ten years.”

Bob Osborne, director of public affairs for OPG’s thermal unit, says that this study will help determine the feasibility of converting some units at two of their four coal-fuelled generating stations – at Lambton and Nanticoke in southern Ontario – to receive biomass. “We are looking at both wood-based and agriculture-based fuels in pellet form,” he says. The other coal-fuelled generating stations are at Atikokan and Thunder Bay in northwestern Ontario.

Given the relatively high transportation costs associated with agrobiomass, the majority of farms where crops are selected to be grown will likely be located in proximity to the two plants, says Armitage.

The crops will mostly be perennial forage species such as Miscanthus, switchgrass, and big bluestem. Sorghum, an annual forage, may also be tested. Although some of the crops will be planted on “marginal soils,” says Armitage, farm sites for the pilot project will be selected so that trials include different soil types (e.g., sand, loam, and clay), soil classes, and climatic conditions.

“The development of an agricultural biomass industry for combustion energy…is in the early stages,” notes Osborne. “There are gaps in research, economic analysis and infrastructure development that need to be addressed.” However, he does think it is “safe to say” that electricity from biomass will cost more than that produced from coal.

For more, visit www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/engineer/biomass/index.htm