New Brunswick’s Belledune Port Authority (BPA) is on track for a sixth straight year of growth in wood pellet volume in 2024. This is the result of strategic infrastructure investments and green-energy hungry markets advancing the port’s status as Eastern Canada’s largest exporter of biomass.
President and CEO Denis Caron says the port’s capacity growth in both wood pellets and wood chips is part of a deliberate transition to climate-friendly energy sources.
“Power plants in Europe have reduced their GHG emissions in recent years, and our exporting of wood pellets has played a role in making that happen,” he says. “Green energy has been part of our operations for some time now.”
By investing with port partners in a new storage facility and terminal expansion, and seeking out new overseas markets, the port has grown its biomass volume from 223,948 tonnes (wood pellets and wood chips) in 2018 to a projected 510,000 tonnes in 2024.
This growth in biomass helped the port realize millions of dollars in successive annual profits through the global pandemic years, despite the global supply chain slowdown.
New Brunswick has significant biomass production capacity. Forest biomass is the wood waste that is left as a result of strategic forest management and local sawmill processing. Transformed into wood pellets and chips, it is a source of clean energy and a highly sought-after replacement for fossil fuels in industrial heating and power production. Much of the biomass shipped through the Port of Belledune is destined for European power plants that used to burn coal.
This potential for continued growth in biomass volume at the port is strong.
Wood pellets are being seriously considered as a replacement fuel for the 470MW Belledune Generating Station, a coal-fired plant located adjacent to the port that was built in 1991. The Canadian government will ban coal for power production starting in 2030. Coal supply for the generating station represents about 40% of the port’s cargo volume.
NB Power, the provincial utility that owns the power station, is investigating both the technical and supply chain implications of a conversion to biomass.
A 2023 call for expressions of interest for solutions to convert the station resulted in biomass proposals from across North America, and a resource assessment concluded that there is sufficient biomass in the region to support a plant conversion. Due to the large volume of wood pellets that may be required, additional wood pellets could also be imported by vessel.
The port is supporting this project, and will import 2,500 tonnes of pellets this autumn for a test burn that is planned for early in 2024.
NB Power’s Vice President of Business Development and Strategic Partnerships Brad Coady recently told a New Brunswick legislative committee that the utility will make a decision on a potential solution for the station by the end of 2024.
“We have engaged worldwide experts, consultants who have experience with these types of conversions in Europe. Since that time we learned what we need to look at. We spent a lot of time with the plant staff in Belledune, and studying the opportunity to convert from coal to biomass,” he said. “There are two major puzzles we are trying to solve. One is the technical viability of combusting that fuel in that station, and two is where do you find that fuel for what is ultimately that solution.”
The wood pellets in the recently completed storage facility at the Port of Belledune are created from by-products and leftover sawmill biomass materials processed by four main suppliers in Quebec and New Brunswick. This supply is exported overseas through the Port of Belledune. Customers in Europe and other continents overseas continue to increase their purchasing, recognizing the environ mental benefits of using wood pellets as fuel for energy production.
Biomass is just part of the Port of Belledune’s transition to a cleaner and brighter future.
As the world continues to demand cleaner and more sustainable businesses, the Port of Belledune is moving forward with a bold vision to attract and develop green industry fuelled by renewable energy in Northern New Brunswick.
Last year, the port launched a new Master Development Plan and has been moving forward with a series of short and longer-term projects to attract develop ment, including a major hydrogen production facility powered by wind, anticipated to come online by 2027.
“We are transforming to diversify, grow, and green our business with a brand-new plan for the future,” says Caron. “This plan supports our determination to green our current operations and also our long-term ambition to attract clean industry and enable large-scale production of renewable energy, specifically green hydrogen.”