December 7, 2017
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Railway ties pollute less than virgin wood when burned. The creosote embedded in them through years of use burn at a higher temperature, creating less emissions.

The Results Are In

In 2010, we tested several forms of locally-produced biomass fuel to see if we could use it as a substitute for coal. We tested maize, millet, hemp and sorghum, among a few others. Most of these plants were annuals, or plants that are produced withina single growing season. However we also tested some switchgrass, a promising perennial crop, from Willowlee Sod Farms in Prince Edward County. Perennial plants grow back every spring and do not need to be replanted.The focus of the project was on gaining local experience with fuel production and use. Some of what we have learned was in line with what we expected and some of it was surprising. Here are some of our findings:•    Variety is better: Some crops, like maize and millet, yielded about what we expected, while others, like hemp and sorghum, delivered less than half of what we thought they would. The best approach, based on what we’ve learned, is to plant a variety of annual crops so that we don’t rely too heavily on one crop.•    Perennials may be the way to go. Experts agree that perennials like switchgrass and big bluestem are the best biomass crops, since you can reap up to 20 years’ worthof crops from a single planting. We couldn’t test a large amount of these in our 2010 trial. However we’re working with our partners at Queen’s University on a longer- term crop study and we’re happy to report that these grasses and a number of hybrid poplar varieties are in their third growing season on research plots on Lafarge land.•    The process is not as cost- efficient as we need it to be. While we’re 100% committed to reducing our dependency on coal, unfortunately coal is still more economical than the biomass fuel we tested. However, we did find ways to reduce the cost to almost half of previously published cost figures, but we’re not there yet. We’ll continue to promote the development of more efficient practices and processing methods so that we can bring these costs down further, making them a real sustainable option.“We feel the test was hugely successful; we’ve learned substantially from it,” says Steven Price, Senior Director of Conservation Science Practice at WWF Canada.“We are more aware of the benefits and challenges in making this process both environmentally and economically sustainable. We also know, there isa lot more we need to learn.”

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