UBC and Nexterra Systems partnering to use clean-energy technology to power campus

Green College, University of British Columbia, view of the northern part of campus taken from about 2000' above campus level at midday from the northeast. Green College and Cecil Green Park House are set among green grass in the centre of the picture. The Museum of Anthropology is in the top right quadrant, partially obscured by cloud. Chan Center for the Performing Arts is a distinctive oval shape in the top left quadrant. Wreck Beach and the waters of the Georgia Straight are to the bottom and right. Creative commons photo from Wikipedia

The University of British Columbia (UBC) is partnering with local company,  Nexterra Systems Corp., and GE Water and Power, to convert wood waste to power  the campus.

The university will be launching the  $26 million energy project  aimed at reducing UBC’s greenhouse gas emission by 4,500 tonnes per year, and officials hope it will be up and running by November 2011, a UBC spokesman said. The project is the first of its kind in North America.

If it successfully goes through all of the approval process by UBC boards in time, the system will produce six percent of the electricity needs at Vancouver’s UBC campus, and reach over 1,500 homes at UBC.

Along with providing environmentally-friendly electricity, the project will also provide research experience to the many students attending the university, who can now learn about clean-energy technology first-hand.

“A lot has to come together over the next two or three weeks,” David Woodson, Managing Director of Building Operations at UBC, said. “Everything from negotiations with the company --on what exactly the university is buying --to all of the funding coming together from all the funding agencies.”

The University also has to get an emissions permit from Metro Vancouver, and meet the requirements to receive a grant from National Research Canada.

A complicated list of steps are required to produce the energy and heat for the campus through the system.

“The system uses Nexterra gasification technology, which involves a thermo-chemical process [this captures the energy] that converts wood waste into a clean burning gas referred to as “syngas,”” said Annette Saliken, of Nexterra Systems Corp. “The syngas is then fired into the engine to generate electricity and heat.”

Woodson likes to compare the system to a burning campfire.

“When you just start the campfire—you get that white wispy smoke that comes off the top,” Woodson said. “What they do in this gasifier is that the white wispy smoke starts coming off the top, but they starve the chamber of oxygen so that there is never a flame present. It smoulders away and it’s that white wispy smoke that is the syngas which they then collect.”

During the final stages, the syngas is cleaned and run through an engine which will produce electricity.

“In the production of electricity there is waste heat that gets turned into steam,” Woodson said. “The end process is that you get electricity from the syngass and steam for heating that goes to the campus. If you are a mechanical engineer going to school at UBC you can actually see how this would work first hand and –understand the process around the gassifier."

“Whether it’s another university or another city, the whole idea is to create this exposure to students who are going to school,” Woodson said. “You tend to fall back onto what you know, so unless you are exposed to these new ideas and new technologies, it’s harder for these to be put forward as real options.”

According to a UBC  press release, the university is one of the “most sustainable post-secondary campuses in the world.” The University has received a B+ from the Sustainable Endowments Institute’s College Sustainability Report Card, which ranks University from all around the world on various forms of sustainability.

“The UBC Okanogan campus in Kelowna has the benefit of the Great Okanogan Aquifer underneath the campus and they use geothermal to heat their buildings,” Woodson said, who noted that UBC is always looking into new project ideas. “We ask, ‘are there other types of ideas like this that we can put on campus?’”

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