Bioenergy: Blessing or Curse?

IMG_0927Close your eyes for a moment. Now picture a series of nodes. All these nodes are receiving information through various channels, but they are all disconnected. Now picture a space where all these nodes are getting connected together, and the information eachImage is receiving is being exchanged with other nodes. This is what the Waterlution Toronto Hub is all about.

It is a space to reflect on all the information (conferences, panel discussions, courses, projects etc.) that you “breathe in” elsewhere, and to have an opportunity to “breathe out” your own interpretations, ideas, questions and confusions around it.

In celebration of Canada Water Week and World Water Day, and continuing our season-long dialogue on water & energy, we gathered in our new Hub space at iQ Office Suites to explore bioenergy and roll out a new process!

To balance the levels of knowledge in the room, our lovely Alison Chan (who also helped design the event with our Co-creation Team) hosted Bioenergy 101 -> Bioenergy falls into 3 categories: Biogas, Biomass and Biofuels.

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  • Here’s what we learned: Ontario Power Generation (OPG) is looking to buy 2-3 million tons of biomass annually by 2015 – the date at which the Ontario government has mandated an end to burning coal for electricity generation. Biomass is targeted to replace coal as soon as technical obstacles are overcome. OPG will phase out the use of coal at its thermal electricity stations by the end of 2014. However, for biomass to completely replace coal, it must find a more efficient and condensed solution for transport and handling.Image

Provocateur Jon Dwyer, CEO of Flax Energy explained that until the cost of biomass/biofuels becomes competitive enough to current oil and gas prices, it’s unrealistic to pursue the goal OPG is setting out to.

  • Price & accessibility have to be competitive.
  • 3 items dictate the future: Food, Water & Land and this is why he set out to start Flax Energy.
  • With Flax Energy, they use 66% of the world’s flax, 60% becomes meal (i.e animal feed) and 40% is turned into oil for energy production.
  • How water intensive is the process? They use a “drywash” that is the least water intensive since Flax is water soluble and requires lower water intensity.

  “What other possibilities and better alternatives exist and/or are yet to be imagined?”

ImageWell, we invited play and imagination and challenged groups to design and build their own alternative energy system- part anchored in scientific knowledge and part expanded by creativity! You had to be there to experience the “fun” frenzy. Deep insights surfaced around challenges in communication (communicating one’s ideas, negotiating, overcoming technicality, ensuring consensus); challenges in focusing on water at the centre of the bioenergy systems under construction; and lastly the varying learning opportunities that emerged out of play. As a participant said: “We can safely say there was no shortage of imagination”.

BIOCREW designed “THE GREASE TRUCK PLANT”
Taking grease from restaurants, transporting it on the Grease Truck to the plant and transforming it into methane, with fertilizer as byproduct (sold to different industries). This system also reclaims a % of water polluted in the production process through filtration. Methane gas is sold to other companies that can use it for energy.

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BIOBADGAS designed “THE BIOBADGAS MOBILE” accompanied by a skit (and song)!
A ‘trybrid’ system “taking your crap and turning it into energy!” A bus goes around the city and makes pitstops at houses that generate waste (look at Biorad below). This bus functions like a typical bus, transporting people (i.e on tours around the city) but is fueled by biological waste.

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BIOSTRONG designed “THE BIOSTRONG SHIP & PLANT”

A boat (powered by wind & solar for those on the boat + a noise maker to keep wildlife away) that picks up plasticS out of the ocean and transports it to a plant. The process entails 1)Plastic sorting 2)Recycling 3)CO2 generated + non-recyclable plastics go into fermenting process with “super bacteria” 4) This super bacteria then can be turned into source of energy.

To reduce water consumption, reactors for fermentation process use salt water (not freshwater). There’s also a C.S.E.R (corporate social & enviro responsibility) component associated with the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup where people bring plastic waste they find in cleanups and get $ compensation for it (similar to LCBO program, but for energy!)

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BIORAD designed “THE HOUSEHOLD COMPACT BIOLOGICAL WASTE SYSTEM”
From human feces to food waste, every household can use this system! Unlike biofuels that cannot be integrated into society, this system is practical at household level, functioning on microbial digestion and cogeneration (so you can automatically produce electricity & heat directly from gas generated). In version 1.0, this system comes with a household energy storage unit. In version 1.2, we can develop a “community or neighbourhood biogas storage unit” so people can all feel they are contributing to producing energy for their neighbourhood.

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If you’d like to see your videos (fantastic presentations by the way)- email me! dona@waterlution.org.

See you at the next Hub event, April 20th: walkonwater.eventbrite.ca

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