A first-of-its-kind bioenergy project at the University of British Columbia has been given the go ahead for construction by the province as part of its Olympic and Paralympic business hosting strategy.

The UBC Bioenergy Research and Demonstration project — a partnership between UBC, Nexterra Systems and GE — was announced on February 15 as part of B.C.’s Clean Energy Day.

Upon completion, the project will be the world’s first biomass-fueled heat and power generation system. The system will break down waste to produce a synthetic gas that it will then use to power a gas engine. The energy from the engine will partially provide the UBC campus with heat and electricity.

“This really is the prototype for a living laboratory,” said John Grace, a professor of engineering and former director of the clean energy centre at UBC. “For the community it shows real leadership. It shows that we can take waste, gasify it and help meet environmental standards.”

The installation will generate enough clean electricity to reduce the school’s natural gas usage by 12 per cent, power nearly 1,500 homes on the campus and eliminate a possible 4,500 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year.

Along with the environmental considerations of the project, it will also offer a research component for students to examine clean energy technologies in the hopes of informing future global standards in bioenergy.

“Graduate students, both master’s and PhD’s, will be working on it,” added Grace. “They will be working quite actively for thesis projects and such.”

The uniqueness of the endeavour is also being used as a promotional tool, capitalizing on the intense global focus the province has experienced from hosting the Games, to lure clean energy specialists from around the world to the province to conduct research.

“The significance of the project is that it is a phenomenal demonstration,” said Wal van Lierop, owner of Chrysalix Energy, a venture capital firm involved in bioenergy technology and policy. “People will come to see how this project works.”

Some government officials even see the success of this installation as a possible catalyst towards economic recovery.

“I believe by being at the leading edge of this interaction between technology and the environment and the economy and the environment we will drive an improved economic environment,” said Blair Lekstrom, minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources.

“And, create a better quality of life for people that live in British Columbia.”

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