One aspect of the climate change debate I find particularly troubling is the extent to which CO2 has come to dominate the narrative. By limiting our discussions to CO2 we ignore the topics we can all agree upon. Today I will talk about a topic about which even the most dedicated denialists and the most excitable catastrophists should be able to agree on: black carbon.
Wood is certainly not a new fuel. We've been using it since the invention of fire to keep warm, but can it be a big part of our electricity mix in our modern age? Biomass provides green baseload power -- an important consideration for grid operators who want to integrate more renewable energy by balancing the intermittent nature of solar and wind.
The great boreal forest straddles the country and provinces from Nova Scotia to British Columbia have ample forestry resources. In a place like Canada biomass to energy can make a lot of sense. So we headed to the largest, closest biomass operation we could find -- the Alberta Pacific Forest Industries (ALPAC) pulp mill.
With an increase in population and the continuing threat of the end of the fossil fuel era, researchers have looked in other directions to help keep the lights on. In particular, one incredibly abundant resource on the planet, dead organic material collectively known as biomass has been identified as the future or renewable energy.
District heating is a simple idea. Produce the heat in a large centralized plant and then pipe it to nearby customers, but it still hasn't cracked into the mainstream in Canada yet. The heating provided by the biomass project can cover half of the heating load on the coldest prairie winter day of the year and the vast majority of the heating loads the rest of the year.
The creaking, turn of the century steam pipes at the University of British Columbia are transforming into a modern, modular low-carbon Lego style hot water system. The new hot water style heating system at UBC can now integrate renewable energy systems like biomass, geoexchange, solar thermal and waste heat into this natural gas system all because the barrier for entry is lower.
Sewage, biosolids, wastewater, effluent, human waste and night soil -- these are all euphemisms for poo. But instead of looking at it as something to be disposed of, why not use it to grow a crop that can heat our buildings, produce electricity or be used for compost? Camrose County in rural Alberta is doing just that.
Church Point, a little-known dot on the map in rural southern Nova Scotia, isn't exactly a tourist hotspot. But for sustainability nerds it's an unexpected haven. It's home to St. Anne University, or Université Sante Anne as it's called in French and it may be the greenest little university in Canada.