Vidir is leading way in eco-friendly power generation

By Matt Wright
Friday August 25, 2006

Raymond Dueck with original gas displacement system at Vidir’’s Arborg plant.
MATT WRIGHT

Interlake Spectator — A local and greener approach to home and business heating is in its finishing stages just north of Arborg.
Vidir Machine Inc. has recently acquired a $189,000 grant from the Manitoba Rural Adaptation Council Inc. The grant will enable it to complete and put the finishing touches on a heating system that runs solely on biomass. The $600,000 project is called the Greenhouse Gas Displacement System (GDS) and currently it heats 50,000 sq. ft. of the company’s Arborg plant -- saving the firm $50,000 a year in heating costs alone.
The company also has in development a combined heat and power system (CHP) at its Morris plant, a system that will be tested to heat and power that community. A grant from the Green Municipal Enabling Fund given to municipalities to stimulate investment in innovative environmental infrastructure projects will hopefully enable the project to come to fruition.
Biomass refers to energy resources derived from organic matter, including wood, wood waste, agricultural waste and other living-cell material that can be burned to produce heat
The GDS system is an updraft, atmospheric heating system that features high efficiency, low emissions and low maintenance requirements.

The biomass used in the system is post-harvested baled wheat straw, a renewable, cheap and accessible resource that is converted into hot water or air.
The energy derived from the process is what Raymond Dueck, co-president of the company and project manager of the GDS system, likes to call “sequestered solar energy” as the energy obtained by the plant from the sun when it’s alive is stored in it and released when it’s burnt in the system.
Vidir is currently experimenting with other biomass sources such as cattails, switchgrass, woodchips and rice hulls to see how efficient and useful they are to burn.
The company started tinkering with the idea of biomass heating in the 1980s. In 1999, it began operating a fully functional system in the plant, one still in use today. In those early days, Vidir burned sunflower pellets for energy. The price of the pellets subsequently went up and became cost inefficient. The firm then switched to a coal-burning furnace, but discovered that maintenance costs were too high. It was then Vidir Machine bought a straw-burning furnace and began experimenting with other types of biomass to produce heat.
At first Dueck and his firm were told that they couldn’t burn straw efficiently as it produces silica as a by-product when burned -- and that would clog the pipes in the system. They set to work and figured out a way to deal with the silica problem, a method for which they are now seeking a patent.
The practice of burning straw for fuel has benefits for all involved. For the farmer, it provides and economic and practical way of getting rid of it rather than burning it out of a field. For the environment, the straw burns cleanly, as biomass combustion is considered being CO2 neutral. Commercialized, it means cheaper heating for residents. Consider that, according to the company, biomass heating from straw costs about 10 per cent of the price of natural gas to use. And it’s a constantly renewable resource.
Two years ago, Dueck brought in Dr. Eric Bibeau, an expert in Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering from the University of Manitoba. He has been working with biomass applications since 2001. Apart from the wealth of knowledge he’s brought to the program, Bibeau has also been chief architect of a turbion power system, a biomass power combustion system that turns biomass waste into heat and electricity. The company’s Morris plant will shortly be integrated with such a system and the benefits could be enormous.
“It will be the first CHP (combined heat and power) biomass plant in the community and be able to electrify the entire town centre,” Dr. Bibeau said.
“We can generate power, but far more important, there is an automatic switching system that guarantees a power supply to hospitals, seniors homes and wherever it’s most needed in times of traditional electrical failures,” Dueck said.
A large portion of the funding for the Vidir Machine project comes from the Manitoba Rural Adaptation Council Inc., a non-profit group that funds innovative agricultural projects. Other donors include the province and Vidir itself. To see how industry and the environment can safely and economically co-exist visit www.vidirbiomass.com

© 2008 Interlake Spectator