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New UBC bioenergy facility set to pave way for carbon-negative future

September 22, 2021   Maryam Farag

From left: Dr. Pat Kirchen, Associate Professor in the UBC Department of Mechanical Engineering; Dr. Jack Saddler, Professor in UBC’s Faculty of Forestry; and Dr. Xiaotao Bi, Director of the UBC Biorefining Research and Innovation Centre.

A research and demonstration facility aimed at accelerating the development of low-carbon, market-ready bioenergy products and carbon-negative energy systems has opened its doors at the University of British Columbia.

Building on work conducted at UBC’s Clean Energy Research Centre (CERC) over the past 15 years, the new Biorefining Research and Innovation Centre (BRIC) will bring together academic researchers and industry partners to create technologies that could reduce reliance on carbon-intensive fossil fuels.

“There is enormous potential for biomass like BC forest waste to help meet both local and global renewable energy needs,” said  Xiaotao Bi, Director, BRIC and CERC and Professor,  Chemical and Biological Engineering, UBC. “BRIC offers a unique opportunity not only to transform organic materials into low-carbon, high-value fuels and other bio products, but to do so at a demonstration scale in a virtually risk-free environment.”

BRIC aims to minimize the risks of bioproduct development by first assessing each candidate technology for technical effectiveness and economic potential. Then, in collaboration with partner companies, the UBC team will create prototypes and demonstrate their ability to produce bio products at scale.

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The Centre’s projects will include:

  •  Two-stage fluidized bed gasification technologies to convert forest, agricultural and municipal waste into low-carbon biofuels (e.g., a novel two-stage fluidized bed gasification pilot plant for future commercial-scale demonstration at a BC pulp and paper mill)
  • Microwave-assisted fluidized bed catalytic pyrolysis technology to improve the quality of two intermediate products in the biofuel production process: bio-oil (a potential petroleum substitute) and biochar (a carbon sink, soil conditioner and reducing agent)
  • Horizontal pulsating fluidized bed torrefaction technology that will produce second-generation (torrefied) wood pellets for energy-intense applications (e.g., power plants and metallurgical processing)