Bio-mass is the word

By Cindy McKay
Friday February 09, 2007 Interlake Spectator

Dr. Eric Bibeau uses this leafy prop to make a point about the potential found in bio-mass projects.


The St. Laurent Sustainable Energy committee has jumped on the environment wave as they presented their Bio-Mass District Heating Project overview to about 40 people Feb. 5.

A brief history of the project was provided by chairperson Frieda Krpan. After only five months since the idea was first conceived, the committee has been busy meeting with key players, government officials and gaining support from various sources.

It was at an alternative energy tour in North Dakota where I saw a presentation by Dennis St. George talking about the bio-mass district heating project that made the whole tour worthwhile, Krpan said of her trip last year. It was amazing that a Manitoba Hydro rep would promote alternative energy to replace electricity. We met with hydro reps and it just snowballed from there.

Before long, the organization had funding for the feasibility study sourced from CEDEM, the RM of St. Laurent and from the government Rural Enhancement Development Initiative (REDI) program. It also gained endorsement from Manitoba Hydro, MAFRI Minister Rosann Wowchuk, Conservation Minister Stan Struthers; Water Stewardship Minister Christine Melnick and Selkirk-Interlake MP James Bezan.
Tower engineering has started the feasibility study and a final report will be ready as early as March.

Providing a central heating system to several public and private buildings within the RM of St. Laurent is the objective of the bio-mass project. This would be done by purchasing a gas displacement system that would burn straw, wood or manure, depending on available bio-mass material. This gassifier would burn the available bio-mass material at a high temperature which would in turn heat a large water boiler. In order to heat buildings, pipes and radiators would be used to carry and conduct heat to area buildings.
Under the proposed project, the unit would heat the recreation centre, arena, assisted living centre, the future Business Development Centre, the school and proposed new DSFM school, 29 homes in the Manitoba Housing development, the Parish Hall and Rectory and RM buildings.
An estimated overview of cost savings from the current heat source of more than $6 million would be reduced to about $480,000 with an estimate capital investment of about $2 million.
Vidir Biomass created Biomass Energy System Technology┬ (BEST) greenhouse gas displacement heating system several years ago and has been using it successfully at the Vidir Machine manufacturing plant, north of Arborg to heat the manufacturing plant and warehouse since 1999.

The BEST is a two-stage heating system. The straw bales are shredded and put into a fire which produces smoke into the second chamber where we burn the smoke. These gasses burn at about 2,000 to 2,900 degrees Fahrenheit, explained Vidir Biomass spokesperson Eric Rempel. When smoke is burnt at this high heat, the small amount of emissions are reduced to carbon dioxide and water.
The technology has been widely accepted in Denmark for years with large heat pipes built like pipelines above ground to provide the utility to residents. Similar units are already in place in Toronto and Hamilton, Ont.

With the St. Laurent project, the potential to utilize these emissions into a greenhouse atmosphere sparked a huge market potential for fresh vegetables and flowers over the inclement seasons and throughout the winter. Krpan said the committee has been in touch with Peak of the Market and they expressed an interest in the project.

When people think of alternative energy, they think of solar and wind, but bio-mass is the second most renewable fuel source with the first being the largest, hydro, claims Dr. Eric Bibeau.

Dr. Bibeau is a professor of mechanical engineering at the U of Manitoba and also chair of the alternative energy committee at Manitoba Hydro. He firmly believes in the science and cost effectiveness of bio-mass.

When there is a peak in the oil prices, bio-fuels, bio-ethanol and bio-diesel take about 70 days to grow whereas fossil fuels ... 70 million years, Bibeau said. We are so far behind the Europeans. In Europe, the standard fuel they use is [bio-mass produced.]

Showing pictures of a pellet truck backed into a home, he shows how individual units keep houses warm in several countries. The maintenance-free system is outfitted with a low fuel indicator which alerts the truck to restock the supply. The system available requires little or no maintenance to homeowners while they benefit from an economic energy source.

The St. Laurent system would burn about 2,400 bales a year. While that may sound like a lot, the straw plant in Elie eats up 180,000 bales and there are still fields burnt each fall with unbaled straw.

St. Laurent would become a national leader in saving our environment. People would come from all over to see the system and all levels of governments are interested in increasing grants for these projects, said Tower Engineering's Greg Jorgensen.