Olds College has student from Netherlands assessing bioenergy

A university student from the Netherlands is in Olds assessing the potential for bioenergy production in Alberta.

A university student from the Netherlands is in Olds assessing the potential for bioenergy production in Alberta.

Pieter Hiemstra is looking into the feasibility of pyrolysis here, including access to feedstocks and markets for the resulting products.

His project is being supported by the Olds College School of Innovation and Van Hall Larenstein University of Applied Sciences, where Hiemstra is an agri-business student.

Pyrolysis involves the conversion of biomass, such as waste straw or manure, into an energy source, said Tanya McDonald, a bioenergy research scientist at the Olds College’s School of Innovation.

A key to the process is the absence of oxygen, which results in incomplete combustion.

“You end up with a variety of different products, depending on the temperature and the length of time that the product is exposed,” she said.

These include gas and pyrolysis oil, which can be refined into fuels, said McDonald. Another is biochar, which can be applied to the soil to promote carbon capture.

“Depending on which product you’re after, you can vary the conditions of the burn.”

Hiemstra has been in Canada since the end of September, and expects to complete his research by mid-January.

He’s looking at both the practicalities of pyrolysis production in Alberta, and potential markets.

The feedstock he’s been focusing on is wheat straw, said Hiemstra, but there are a variety of alternatives.

“He’s kind of fact-finding, I guess, on every angle — whether it be feedstock, whether it be technology or whether it be market for the products,” said McDonald.

Bioenergy technology isn’t as common in Canada as it is in many parts of Europe, she added, although the Olds College School of Innovation has been active in such research. For example, it’s been looking at the possible uses of biochar.

“We’re interested in and supportive of any individuals or companies that are looking at advancing these types of technologies,” said McDonald.

Alberta generates a great deal of agricultural biomass, so it’s worth exploring the potential of developing a pyrolysis plant here, she said. Hiemstra’s research could open the door to that possibility.

“In the future, I think, this document could be used to guide some decision-making.”

Hiemstra agreed that his report might attract bioenergy companies to Alberta. But he added that it’s too soon to draw any conclusions about what his findings will be.

In June, a Dutch delegation came to Central Alberta as part of a Red Deer Regional Economic Development and Central Alberta Economic Partnership project seeking to attract foreign direct investment to the area. The visitors included representatives of three bioenergy companies, one of which specializes in the production of pyrolysis oil.