UBC green energy project gets government cash injection

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A rendering of the building that will house the UBC Bioenergy Demonstration and Research Project

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A first-of-its-kind biomass-fueled, heat and power generation system has been developed by a partnership between Nexterra Systems and General Electric, and is heading to the campus of the University of British Columbia (UBC) next year. The Bioenergy Research and Demonstration Project will meet around six percent of the total annual demand for electricity and up to 25 percent of the university's campus requirements for steam. UBC has just announced that the project has secured a substantial federal and provincial cash injection.

The CA$27 million (US$27.8 million) UBC facility comes after three years of collaboration between Nexterra and GE's Jenbacher gas engine division, and will use Nexterra's gasification technology and a GE Jenbacher engine to turn tree trimmings, wood chips and other urban wood waste diverted from local landfills into heat and energy. It is claimed that the project will provide enough clean electricity to power 1,500 homes, and reduce UBC's natural gas consumption by up to 12 per cent while eliminating 4,500 tonnes (4,960 US tons) of annual greenhouse gas emissions.

The four story, 1,886-square-meter (6,187 sq ft) facility will convert urban wood waste into clean burning, combustible synthetic gas – or syngas – using Nexterra's proprietary gasification and syngas conditioning technologies. The syngas will then be directly fired into the GE Jenbacher gas engine to produce two megawatts of electricity. Waste heat will be recovered from the engine to produce 9,000 lbs/hour of low pressure steam. The plant's conversion efficiency will be around 65 percent.

UBC has entered into an agreement with the City of Vancouver for a regular supply of tree chip waste from its municipal operations and will obtain the remainder from local sawmills and other urban waste sources. The project will also be the first North American commercial facility to use cross-laminated-timber, a specially-adapted low-carbon replacement for steel or concrete in multi-story building construction. Once the UBC facility is up and running, Nexterra and GE plan to expand the project into the rest of Canada and beyond.

"This project is an example of UBC's concept of the university as a living laboratory for research, action and leadership on global sustainability issues," said UBC president Stephen Toope at the announcement of the project, which secured federal support to the tune of CA$10.2 million (US$10.5 million), with an extra million being thrown into the pot by the provincial government of British Columbia. "With this crucial support from government, UBC will generate clean steam and electricity, provide valuable new knowledge for the clean energy sector and inform new global standards for bioenergy system performance."

UBC's list of project collaboration and funding partners includes the Clean Energy Research Centre, Western Economic Diversification Canada, Sustainable Development Technology Canada, the Faculty of Applied Science, the Canadian Wood Council and the Sauder School of Business.

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