August 3, 2012
Ninth in a series on the ‘Now or Never” report of the Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources (ENEV).
Priority #9 highlights the importance of renewable energy to Canada’s energy future. And that’s possible because we have an abundance of water, wind, sunlight, geothermal and biomass resources. Renewable energy initiatives are often developed in response to addressing greenhouse gas emissions, diversifying energy supplies, meeting government regulations and satisfying consumer demands for renewable energy sources.
Renewable energy is primarily used to generate electricity. Hydropower accounts for about two thirds of our electricity generation here in Canada. The rest is generated by oil, natural gas, coal and nuclear. ‘Other’ renewables are also part of the mix but are just a sliver of our energy pie. The challenge is how can we grow that piece?
In Canada, the answer right now is slowly. But steadily. Canada’s wind power installed capacity is growing every year. Biomass-fired electricity generation (forest and agriculture waste, municipal solid waste and landfill gas) is being considered as an option to replace some coal-fired plants. Biofuel development is continuing to grow; all major oil refineries in Canada blend ethanol and biodiesel. And both solar and geothermal are heating options for residential and commercial development.
Canada certainly has the capacity to make good use of these resources if we can tackle the key issues. Upgrading of the electricity grid infrastructure is essential. Private and public funding of research we know is key to technology development and innovation. And realizing that municipal governments and consumers have a big role to play in developing renewable energy resources locally.
Today’s lesson is in your hands. I will supply you with sources about the big renewables in Canada, but as these industries are constantly evolving, I’d advise that you keep up with them. If you’re a regular reader of this blog you’ll know I’ve recently posted several stories on renewables, and am always looking for more.
Canada is an enormous country, and has amazing potential for renewable energy. This is an exciting time for renewables, so I would definitely recommend that you look at these sites now and visit often. There are some truly fantastic things happening.
Canadian Wind Energy Association – Canada’s wind farms
Ontario – Small wind for home and farm
Canadian Solar Industries Association – Solar energy 101
Solar decathlon – Who will compete next?
Canadian Renewable Fuels Association – Public policy
BC – Bioenergy strategy
Canadian Geothermal Association – What is geothermal?
NRCan – Tides, rivers and waves
FORCE – Tidal energy (watch the Fundy Tidal Research video)
July 11, 2012
The Calgary Stampede is here again, and that means that I can finally get my hands on some of the deep-fried delicacies that have become staples of the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth.
Now I usually lean towards the barbeque variety of Stampede fair, but I’ll try at least one of the deep-fried dishes (this year it’ll be the pickle chips). For those who want to dive headlong into the Stampede cuisine deep-fryer you can sample such items as Deep-Fried WagonWheels, or the Bacon Sundae Funnel Cake.
This deep-fried feast isn’t the type of food that would usually be considered a source of energy, but all that bubbling oil will be recycled into a usable supply of bio-fuel.
The Calgary Stampede has stated that around 1,800 kilograms of that cooking oil will be converted into bio-fuel. So get on down there and indulge yourself in some Deep-Fried Kool-Aid or a Jalapeno Corndog. The recycled bio-fuel makes getting those calories down all the more easy.
If you’re interested in how this all takes place, here is a video detailing the process in New York City.
May 9, 2012
The U.S. is back on top of the clean energy investment race. But the position might be short lived.
Five clean energy initiatives in the States ended in 2011 including three tax credit programs, the Department of the Treasury Section 1603 Grant Program and Department of Energy Section 1705 Loan Guarantees.
Pew Environment Group recently released their annual report on clean energy investment. With a primary focus on investment, the report also looks at technological trends related to the clean energy economy of G-20 members.
The United States attracted $48.1 billion in clean energy investments in 2011. It led the way in venture capital financing (70 per cent of the G-20 total) and was second in public market offerings and asset financing (behind China). The U.S. also has 93 GW of installed renewable energy capacity, second only to China, which continues to lead the world in clean energy capacity with 133 GW installed.
2011 was the first year that the U.S. installed more that 1 GW of solar energy and a portion of its 2011 investment dollars were directed towards solar. Investments in large, utility-scale solar power plants are expected to add to America’s installed capacity count in the years to come.
In Canada, our clean energy investment grew by four per cent last year and totalled $5.5 billion. That puts us 11th amoung the G-20 nations. This is were our investment dollars were spent in 2011:
- 56 per cent of total – wind
- 19 per cent – solar, both residential and commercial
- 13 per cent – other renewables like geothermal, biomass and small-hydro
- 8 per cent – biofuels
- 4 per cent – efficiency and low carbon technology and services
Canada has 9.6 GW of installed renewable energy capacity, which is 1.9 per cent of the G-20 total. That breaks down into four sectors: 5.4GW of wind power, 2 GW of small hydro power, 1.8 GW of energy generated by biomass and waste and 0.47 GW of solar power. Interestingly and as is sometimes the case, our 2011 solar energy investment contrasts sharply with a lag in deployment.
Read the executive summary or full report on the Pew Environment Group website.
July 6, 2011
Here at Flow, we’re no strangers to the world of smelly energy. After all, when decomposition and anaerobic digestion start doing their odorous work, it’s more important that they produce energy than nice smells. That’s why it’s always exciting to see a Canadian first wafting into Abbotsford, British Columbia: the first dairy farm to be powered by its own manure.
Generating 60,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity every year,the Bakerview EcoDairy is a sustainability demonstration project created by its parent agribusiness company, the Nutriva Group. The farm employs a variety of sustainability practices, including a natural ventilation system and a water conservation system designed to retain and redistribute rainwater, but it’s its on-site digester that really makes Bakerview come out smelling like roses.
By feeding manure into an on-site digester, the farm is able to produce biogas (also known as landfill gas) that, in turn, powers a generator. But the process of digestion doesn’t just create a ready source of fuel, it also produces heat, which is returned to the farm. And since a dairy farm’s compliment of cows isn’t ever going to stop producing manure, the farm is never short of a ready source of biomass. It’s win-win, provided you don’t mind the smell.
Like many renewable energy projects, this one wouldn’t have been possible without government support. Bakerview was funded in part through a $240,000 grant from the BC Bioenergy Network, a $70,000 grant from the Environmental Farm Plan (EFP) Program and an $80,000 grant from BC Hydro’s Power Smart Technology Demonstration Funds.
Energy isn’t always glamorous, but so long as we’re able to harness renewable energy sources, we’ll be keeping warm and electrified until the cows come home.
Via BC Hydro
April 26, 2011
This week we’re heading out into the field to find the most rustic member of the Energy BOT Squad: BiofuelBOT. Powered by biofuels that can be produced from sources like corn, cellulosic crops and even waste from the lumber industry, he’s a BOT who can pretty much consume anything.
Energy from biomass is actually not a new concept. In fact, burning wood to produce heat and light is the oldest form of biomass energy. But modern technologies like wood pellets have changed the way we make that fire, compressing the waste from pulp and paper mills into tiny, intensely burning pellets. In British Columbia, where the lumber industry has had to face the scourge of mountain pine beetles, wood pellets are even part of the province’s energy plan. But even a tough BOT like BiofuelBOT has to leave the forest sometimes.
Biomass energy also includes the creation of more complex biofuels, like ethanol and biodiesel. These fuels, in turn, can be mixed into conventional gasoline or used by themselves. They’re created using either primary feedstocks, which can include crops like corn or fibrous, “cellulosic” crops like switchgrass, or secondary feedstocks, like the waste from lumber mills. These feedstocks are then processed in a variety of ways, usually through chemical or biochemical conversion, but the result is the same: fuel that lets BiofuelBOT cruise the open road.
And when it comes to waste, BiofuelBOT is always willing to step in and take a bite, because a tough BOT is a hungry BOT. Landfill gas facilities take the methane produced by decomposing garbage and pipe it into a thermal facility capable of burning the gas to produce electricity. And since secondary feedstocks can include nearly any biological source, from cow manure to shrimp shells, there’s really not much that BiofuelBOT can’t eat.
Around the world, just as in Canada, bioenergy is used for both heat and electricity. Large plants include California’s Altamont Landfill liquefied natural gas facility, which can produce up to 13,000 gallons of liquid natural gas per day, and the recently opened biodiesel plant in Singapore, the world’s largest with a capacity of 800,000 tonnes a year. And expect BiofuelBOT to keep on spreading his rustic charm, because with an appetite as wide-ranging and tough as his, BiofuelBOT’s always got something to chew on.
August 26, 2010
We don’t like generating biofuel from our food, but what about a worker whose food is our waste? That’s exactly what Bristol Robotics Lab in the UK has been doing with a sewage-scavenging robot that metabolizes waste in its artificial gut.
The robot, the Ecobot III, can survive by itself for up to seven days by consuming organic material for its microbial fuel cells (MFCs), bio-electrochemical devices that use bacteria to break down food and generate power. Since, unlike a human digestive system, this organic material could be anything, including sewage (the sewage that the Ecobot III is being fed has already been partially processed). When the waste needs to be expelled, it’s sent out of a gravity-fed peristaltic pump that squeezes unwanted matter out of a tube. That way, the robot’s processing system doesn’t become clogged by unused fuel.
It’s a little gross, but hey: Isn’t the future worth it?
But a robot that eats waste like animals eat food isn’t the only option for autonomous robots powered by biomass. As the New Scientist article linked above mentions, the U.S. military’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is developing a similar robot powered by an internal combustion engine. Rather than digesting biomass, these robots would take in organic matter and burn it. Though, in an age where we’re increasingly concerned about greenhouse gases, and with a robot that could consume our waste, it seems odd to propose a new model that’s certainly going to release even more emissions.
Either way, the idea of tiny robots scurrying around and taking care of our waste, without so much as a finger lifted by their owners, is definitely appealing. A trash-removing robot powered by the very trash it removes? My apartment could probably use two.
April 13, 2010
Flow has long talked about the necessity of using cellulosic materials instead of food crops to produce our ethanol. Notwithstanding the potential impact of invasive species like switchgrass, it just makes sense to use fuel sources that aren’t going to raise food prices throughout the world and, in many cases, are more efficient sources of energy anyway. Moreover, there’s been evidence that secondary crops like switchgrass can actually improve soil quality, and there’s an understandable desire to make sure that we make the most out of the fuel sources we have.
But a recent study by the American Society of Agronomy found that one of the ways of maximizing a field’s energy output, crop residue removal, can actually have extremely negative effects on the soil itself. In fact, according to one of the study’s authors, if more than 50 per cent of crop residue is removed, the soil can actually become a carbon source, rather than a carbon sink.
On a very basic level, this adds another argument against attempting to use edible grains as fuel sources. It means that in addition to food crops needing to be preserved because of their use in human beings, rather than gas tanks, they also have the potential to increase our greenhouse gas emissions, rather than decrease them — counteracting one of the central purposes behind alternative fuel sources. Instead, the study suggests, would-be biofuel producers should concentrate on growing warm season grasses and short-rotation woody crops.
Just another reason to keep the food on our tables, separate from the fuel in our tanks.
April 7, 2010
Let’s face it, roofs are pretty lazy. They just lay around above us all day and night without moving an inch, and you can be sure that when winter hits won’t knock the snow off themselves. And the eavestroughs? Forget about any help with those.
Maybe that’s why a team of American scientists funded by the Department of took it upon themselves to create a bona fide “smart roof” that refracts heat during the summer and retains it during the winter.
“White” roofs are already capable of refracting sunlight, while darker roofs retain its heat. But by enabling a roof to switch between the two states at a preset temperature, researchers are hoping to create a more robust solution to so-called “passive” solar energy. Here, the change was made using a coating applied to a roof’s shingles. The developers of the coating found that they could either reduce roof temperatures by about 50 – 80 percent in warm weather, or increase roof temperatures up to 80 percent in cooler weather.
What’s more, the roof’s not just smart, it’s also responsible. Created using leftover cooking oil from fast food restaurants — a waste product that’s already being used in the production of biofuel — the “bio-based” material coating these new roofs wouldn’t require us to do anything more than continue to eat the fatty, fatty foods we already love.
Hey, if we’re making our roofs work harder, why shouldn’t we get to kick back a little ourselves?
December 23, 2009
When it comes to energy there’s just something fascinating about waste products. Sure, the material’s almost always gross, but the idea of using garbage that would otherwise lay in piles or puddles makes great economic and environmental sense. Vancouver, for example, has plans to build six new waste-to-energy plants, dealing with the problems of residential garbage burning and reduced landfill capacity in one fell swoop.
So, in the spirit of sifting through piles for the best and brightest ideas, here’s a review of some of the icky, useful subjects that Flow waded through in 2009.
As it turns out, banana peels aren’t just for slapstick anymore. Like other cellulosic materials, bananas’ fibrous peels aren’t worth eating, which makes them a perfect source of biomass. The skins and leaves are mashed into a pulp and mixed with saw dust, which eventually hardens into bricks that can be burned as fuel.
Mountain pine beetle-killed wood
With mountain pine beetles spreading as fast as warmer winters will let them, the amount of wood destroyed by their infestation is growing. But while wood that’s been chomped on by the beetle’s larvae is useless as building material, it can still be packed into dense pellets for use as fuel. In fact, British Columbia has already integrated these wood pellets into its energy strategy through the BC Bioenergy Strategy.
There are several ways to use the waste from lumber mills to create biofuels, from extract sugars from waste wood that can eventually be refined into ethanol, to the less tested bio-butanol, which has a more difficult refining process. Either way, in a country where “timber” is practically as important a phrase as “hello,” there’s no sense in letting wood waste go, well, to waste.
Manure, droppings or plain ol’ poop: call it what you will, but in the right hands the brown stuff is practically golden. Stories about the use of animal droppings as a fuel source were always cropping up in 2009, from a German town using its cows’ manure to produce biogas to chicken droppings as a source of heat to burning the methane from pig manure to produce electricity, no source is to smelly to be useful.
It takes a catalytic agent to turn biomass like canola oil into viable biofuel. As it turns out, an ideal source for that catalyst might be the chitinous shells of shrimp, which can not only increase the efficiency of biofuel production but, unlike other catalysts, is reusable. Hand it to researchers in Wuhan, China for turning a cocktail appetizer into a cleaner source of energy.
All right, they don’t technically have to Finnish fish, but scientists in Finland are looking at the possibilities of fish waste in biodiesel. Between using fish’s chopped-off bits as an energy source or oceanic pollution, which would you choose?
Have you ever spilled a hot drink and watched a dark stain ruin the page you’d been reading? As it turns out, coffee’s (or tea’s) staining power can actually work to your advantage in a refillable ink cartridge fed by old grounds.
November 25, 2009
Food and fuel meet again; shrimp shells increase the efficiency of bio-fuel production.
The conventional method of turning soybean or canola oil into valuable fuels requires a single-use catalyst like sodium hydroxide that needs to be neutralized by lots of water. Despite making a “greener” fuel than gasoline, all this polluted water isn’t doing anybody any favours.
Scientists in Wuhan, China have done what they always knew makes a dish better- they have added shrimp. Not only is shrimp a cleaner catalyst, but it can be reused, and is much more efficient at rendering plant oil into bio-fuel.
The shrimp shells are composed mainly of chitin. That’s significant, because it’s a material that when heated, becomes very porous. That makes the process much faster. In only three hours, 89 per cent of the batch can been successfully converted.
The researchers at Hua Zhong Agriculture University heated the shrimp shells beforehand, making a framework material that is then mixed with potassium fluoride. The goal was to find an environmentally friendly way to make an environmentally friendly fuel.
Certainly the scientists were happy with the result. By adding shrimp shells to the process, there is less waste and pollution, less energy required due to its efficiency and no wasted water to neutralize. Additionally, there is less cost associated with this method, as the shrimp shell catalyst can be used again, and shrimp are cheap to acquire. The results are a sustainable process and a cleaner fuel.
That’s a deliciously good solution for all.