Biomass Fuel Trial
In the next little while, you’re going to be hearing a lot about biomass. So what is biomass, anyway?
The short answer is that biomass is any natural material, like a plant, that can be used as fuel. This includes crops like the ones being studied on Lafarge’s property, such as maize, hemp, sorghum, miscanthus, poplar, willow and switchgrass, among others. It also includes biodiesel and other naturally derived fuels which aren’t part of this study.
So what is all the excitement about? Compared to other biofuels, solid biomass is easy to produce. And best of all, we don’t have to import it from around the world. We can grow it right here in Eastern Ontario.
The idea of producing our own homegrown energy is proving attractive to farmers, who see biomass as a new source of income, and to energy consumers, like Lafarge, who look at biomass’s environmental benefits and see it as a way to further their commitment to sustainability and to meet the challenge of climate change regulations.
Although the benefits of biomass are clear, Lafarge officials anticipate a few challenges on the horizon as they get ready to convert their plant for a demonstration of plant-based fuels. "We know about the benefits of this type of fuel in terms of reducing emissions from published tests," says Lafarge Environmental Manager Robert Cumming. "But, what we need to learn is how to produce these fuels economically for both the farmer and the energy customer. Which crops are best? Can some crops be used in rotation with food crops for pest control, while others are planted on unused, marginal lands? What is the best way to harvest, ship, and prepare the crops for use at Lafarge?"
Years of scientific research have been invested in understanding biomass fuel and the Lafarge-PPI partnership is making it possible to extend this research to a larger scale. "We're very excited about the practical science that is underway on our real-world farm laboratory," says Cumming. "By partnering with farmers and scientists at the University of Guelph, and Queen's (and others), we can study the fuel's life cycle benefits, the potential benefits to wildlife habitat of carefully designed biomass plantings, enhancements to soil sustainability, and many, many other scientific and practical questions.