British Columbia Embracing Pine Beetle Crisis as Source of Green Energy

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It’s no secret that the Pine Beetle crisis in British Columbia has had a devastating social, economic, and ecological impact on Canada’s western most Province.  The rice-sized insects have caused enormous irreparable damage to British Columbia’s interior,  and led to desperate seasonal forest burns to try and curb the beetle’s spread

Pine beetles kill trees by tunneling into the phloem layer of bark on which they feed and lay their eggs. “Pioneer” female beetles begin to produce pheromones that attract more beetles to their tree. The trees then try to defend themselves by excreting resin to discourage or kill the beetles.  Then it gets really interesting,  as the beetles infect the tree with a  blue stain fungi which, if established,  can block the trees’ resin excretions and also cut of its nutritional flow.  Within about two weeks of a beetle attack, the blocked phloem layer starves the tree to death.

BC Pine Beetles are not naturally unsustainable.  Throughout the 2000s, mild winters caused the beetle population to expand rapidly; this rapid process means the tree’s natural resin defenses have become ineffective at fending off the beetles. The current outbreak is said to be 10 times as large as those in the past.  It it is generally accepted that global warming and industrial deforestation are the root causes of the crisis.  The infestation is currently predicted to be on pace to kill 80% of BC’s mature pine forest and will cost BC over 11,000 jobs.

In light of all this, however, it appears British Columbia has found a way to turn their devastating Pine Beetle crisis into a source of Green Energy.

As reported in the Vancouver Sun, an impressive number of biomass and bio-fuel conversion projects have been sprouting up all over British Columbia, including some that use the residue of Pine Beetle activity as organic waste.   Biomass conversion is the conversion of organic materials into an energy source for use in a variety of applications.  Biofuel production uses organic materials to produce fuel to be used in transportation vehicles of all kinds including cars and planes.

The  Vancouver Sun provided a list of four new notable biomass projects :

- Catalyst Power Inc. in Abbotsford has a newly installed ” Anaerobic Digester” that captures “biomethane” from animal waste and then puts it directly into British Columbia natural gas

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distribution system.

- One of the more interesting projects comes from Lignol Energy Corporation which has been producing low carbon transportation fuels from residual fibres gathered from the activity of the notorious mountain pine beetle.

-BC Bioenergy Network has launched a 7.7 million project which aims to convert organic waste into biofuels which, according to the Vancouver Sun, uses an advanced conversion technology for the first time.

Biomass conversion goes beyond simple reduction of waste, as it can also significantly reduce carbon emissions. Time will tell whether or not the technology becomes advanced enough for bioenergy to become a major part of Canada’s energy grids.  As for any effect on the Pine Needle crisis,  it may be too little too late.  However, biomass projects may eventually become a big part of the global effort to curb climate change.  Considering climate change is the major cause of the Pine Needle crisis growing too epidemic levels, this is part of the solution.

Despite the emergence of biomass projects in British Columbia,  their positive effect on the environment is still dependent on mass adoption and this is partially in the hands of BC businesses and consumers.

If nothing else, at least one good thing can be said of the BC Pine Beetle crisis.

  British Columbia Embracing Pine Beetle Crisis as Source of Green Energy
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