The lush green forests of New Brunswick are the envy of many who are surrounded by concrete walls in population-dense cities. However, a lot of its own residents may not even know exactly how rich of a commodity the abundance of woods in their own backyards produce. Enter forest biomass – the wood waste left as a result of strategic forest management and local sawmill processing. In being resourceful and taking that ‘waste’ and turning it into value-added product, the wood pellet can be produced and thus, a source of clean energy is created. It is arguably New Brunswick’s greatest underutilised resource.
Wood pellets have become a highly sought-after product and are being used more and more for industrial heating purposes, replacing the outdated use of fossil fuels. Hundreds of thousands of pellets are exported out of the Port of Belledune annually, destined for overseas heating facilities. The UK understands this resource and has effectively reduced the use of fossil fuel drastically; as a result, also cutting carbon emissions.
The Belledune Port Authority (BPA) has worked to become the top biomass exporter in Eastern Canada since beginning to export wood pellets over a decade ago. The amount of laydown space available at the Port of Belledune, the storage facilities directly on the terminals and the operations that are offered have clients increasing their supply of these products. In 2019, JD Irving Ltd constructed a storage facility adjacent to Terminal 3 in collaboration with the port’s stevedoring partner and terminal operator, QSL Canada Inc. Wood pellets are sensitive to the elements and this new facility is the third warehouse on the Port of Belledune’s terminals dedicated to storing the commodity. As growth continues, necessary discussions are taking place to identify how to best support the local economy while meeting global demands.
The wood pellets in the new storage facility at the port are created from bi-products and leftover sawmill biomass materials at the JD Irving Sawmill located in Saint Leonard, New Brunswick. This facility is just one location that makes up the product supply exported overseas through the Port of Belledune. In being environmentally responsible, JD Irving Ltd is taking the by-product of their operations, what would otherwise be thrown out, and capitalising on other uses. Customers in Europe and other continents overseas continue to increase their purchasing, recognising the environmental benefits of using wood pellets as fuel for energy production.
There continues to be growing interest locally around wood pellets and their ability to be a clean energy solution for the domestic market as well. The question is whether it is possible to utilise the provinces’ own supply of biomass while continuing to be profitable and successful in supplying customers overseas. In 2016, the provincial government of New Brunswick released their Climate Action Plan (CAP), including the lofty goal of eventually transitioning to a drastically carbon-reduced economy.
An important part of CAP that will directly influence businesses around the region is the eventual phasing out of coal being used to produce energy. According to an article published in Canadian Biomass Magazine in 2017, the wood pellet sector in New Brunswick is “well positioned to help the government meet its climate commitments, to improve the provincial economy, and to create more jobs.
Benefits to adding wood pellets to heating methods include:
- Growing employment and job creation.
- Growing an industry based on using waste that is already being generated by the sawmill industry.
- Using a cost-effective, reliable and clean way to reduce pollution and meet CAP standards.
- Ultimately reduced heating costs.
- Reducing dependence on imports of oil and coal, which would keep money circulating in the province.
Although it remains to be seen how exactly the use of industrial wood pellets could benefit local industries and the environment, it is with certainty that wood pellets will continue to be needed internationally and demand will likely grow. To remain a top supplier of this renewable energy source, the key will always be to have smart, strategic and sustainable forest management. As the BPA focuses on clean environmentally friendly projects, there is also a commitment to partner with organisations that have similar values.
It is not something always at the forefront, but it is important to recognise the impact New Brunswick has overseas by making the most of its greatest natural resource. New Brunswick has significantly played a helping role in the world’s quest for cleaner energy and reducing worldwide carbon emission output. Even more, the province is poised to contribute even more through escalating wood pellet exports from the Port of Belledune and their suppliers. It is clear the greatest resource at the province’s disposal is one that resides in all our own backyards. What was once viewed as unusable trash has become a natural commodity which is in demand and thus is helping create a less-polluted, healthier and safer world.