A first-of-its-kind clean energy project that will generate enough clean electricity to power 1,500 homes and reduce the University of British Columbia’s natural gas consumption by up to 12 per cent, received $11.2 million in new federal and provincial government funding at an official groundbreaking ceremony today.

The $27-million UBC Bioenergy Research and Demonstration Project (BRDP) is a partnership with Vancouver-based Nexterra Systems Corp. and General Electric Co. (GE). When it opens in 2012, it will be the first biomass-fueled, heat-and-power generation system of its kind in the world.

The project will eliminate up to 4,500 tonnes of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions per year from UBC’s Vancouver campus – the equivalent of taking 1,100 cars off the road – and is part of UBC’s bold plan to reduce institutional GHG emissions from 2007 levels by 33 per cent by 2015, 67 per cent by 2020 and total GHG emissions by 2050.

Using Nexterra’s gasification technology and a GE Jenbacher engine, BRDP will produce two megawatts of electricity – up to six per cent of the campus’s average electrical demand – and the heat produced will provide up to 25 per cent of the campus’s steam requirements. The project will be powered by biomass, including tree trimmings, wood chips and other urban wood waste diverted from local landfills.

“Investing in clean energy technologies stimulates the growth of a domestic clean energy industry, creating high-quality jobs for Canadians,” said the Honourable Lynne Yelich, Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification, who announced $10.2 million in federal support. “Moving forward aggressively with investments in clean energy technologies will help us balance our need for energy with our need to protect the environment.”

“This is an incredible example of partnership that helps establish British Columbia as a leader in the development of creative energy solutions,” said the Honourable John Yap, B.C. Minister of State for Climate Action, who announced $1 million dollars in new support, adding to the $4.5 million B.C. allocated for the project last year. “The UBC project shows we can build momentum in the clean energy sector and create new economic activity while reducing the carbon footprint left by our public buildings.”

The facility, in addition to supplying clean energy for the campus, will advance clean energy research and development. Researchers will conduct applied research on bioenergy systems, other green technologies and best practices and policies.

“This project is an example of UBC’s concept of the university as a living laboratory for research, action and leadership on global sustainability issues,” said UBC President Stephen Toope. “With this crucial support from government, UBC will generate clean steam and electricity, provide valuable new knowledge for the clean energy sector and inform new global standards for bioenergy system performance.”

The four-storey, 1,886-square-metre facility will be the first North American commercial application of cross-laminated-timber (CLT), a European building system adapted for BC lumber and manufacturing facilities. CLT is a renewable, low-carbon replacement for steel or concrete in multi-storey residential and commercial buildings up to, and potentially higher than, 10 stories.

UBC has signed a memorandum of understanding with the City of Vancouver, which will provide approximately 5,000 tonnes per year of tree chips from its municipal operations. Other potential fuel sources include fibre from beetle-killed pine and clean wood waste from B.C. sawmills.

UBC research collaborators for the project include the Clean Energy Research Centre (CERC), the Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability (CIRS), the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability, the Faculty of Applied Science and the Sauder School of Business. Once the project is fully demonstrated at UBC, Nexterra and GE will replicate the technology throughout Canada and globally.

“This innovative approach allows the accelerated development, demonstration and commercialization of clean-energy technology for domestic use and global export,” says Professor David Wilkinson, CERC Director. “The UBC campus provides an ideal analytical model for research and learning and will give municipalities the data required to help plan and install future bioenergy operations.”

The project is a key part of UBC’s transformation into a living laboratory for sustainability research and action. Regularly ranked among the greenest universities, UBC’s major sustainability initiatives include aggressive carbon reduction targets; CIRS, which will be North America’s greenest building and a hub for sustainability research when it opens this fall; UBC Renew, a more than $120-million cost-sharing partnership with the BC Government that modernizes historic buildings at UBC; a Continuous Optimization project that reduces energy use in core academic buildings; and the UBC Sustainability Initiative, which integrates sustainability teaching, learning, research and operations.

Funding support for BRDP comes from Natural Resources Canada, BC’s Innovative Clean Energy Fund, Western Economic Diversification Canada, Sustainable Development Technology Canada, BC Bioenergy Network, BC Ministry of Forests, FPInnovations, Canadian Wood Council, Nexterra System’s Corp., GE and UBC.

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