Ontario’s Forest Biomass: The Key of Energy Demand

  • Forest biomass is key to Northern Ontario’s energy needs.
  • Northern Ontario is surrounded by a forest industry, making wood fiber a readily available resource.
  • The use of forest biomass to generate electricity is a positive contribution to combating climate change.

Ontario will face an unprecedented demand for new power supplies. That’s because some of the nuclear plants, Ontario’s main electricity supplier can no longer be used. Currently, the Northwest will also be short of electricity as a number of new mines are connected to the provincial grid.

The current shift to green energy opens up new options for electricity generation that can help meet demand. Ontario Power Generation is exploring a new hydro project. However, people living in boreal forest areas know there are other viable sources. One of these sources not only produces renewable green energy but also creates long-term jobs.

This is forest biomass, which consists mostly of wood residue from logging and sawmill operations. Underutilized wood can generate much-needed electricity for industry and society. Forests can provide large amounts of biomass that can be used for energy. Forest biomass is an interesting alternative to fossil fuels. It is because of its historical use as an energy source, its relative abundance and availability worldwide, and the fact that it is carbon-neutral.

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Forest biomass is key to Northern Ontario’s energy needs. Use of forest biomass resources can create jobs, support economic development, and generate future electricity throughout Northern Ontario.

Northern Ontario is surrounded by a forest industry, making wood fiber a readily available resource. Currently, only 46% of the province’s total permitted cutting is harvested annually, less than 0.5% of all of Ontario’s public forests. The demand for sustainably sourced forest products is always high and is expected to increase.

The United Nations projects that global demand for forest products will grow by more than 30 percent by 2030. An increase in forest production means an increase in the supply of forest biomass available to communities and industries that can use it.

The use of forest biomass to generate electricity is a positive contribution to combating climate change. Canada’s boreal forests absorb and store large amounts of carbon dioxide. New growth is constantly pulling carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

Mature trees are selected as the main source to produce various forest products. It is because mature trees can store carbon for decades rather than being released into the atmosphere. It can increase efforts to reduce climate change. Electricity generated from forest biomass creates a reliable, renewable, affordable and climate-friendly alternative to more carbon-intensive options. Trees store carbon in the form of wood. Even when trees are cut down, carbon remains in the wood. Products made from wood can store carbon until the end of their life cycle.

According to the Ontario government, public forests store about 7.2 billion tonnes of carbon. However, wood products from forests can store 25.5 million tonnes of carbon. This compares to the annual emissions of about 28.6 million passenger vehicles. In terms of environmental impact, wood biomass produces 80% fewer emissions than natural gas.

Northern Ontario has had a positive history of using forest biomass in the generation of electrical energy. Some paper mills have used the remaining fiber as fuel. Which is then used to generate steam and electricity. The electricity is used for themselves or sold to the provincial grid.

Historically, wood left over from the sawmill process was burned or stored in various stockpiles. In both cases, it contributes to the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere with no value to society. Using biomass to generate electricity will not only divert usable fiber from landfills. However, it will help move natural gas consumers into the district heating supply by harnessing excess steam from the generator.

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Distributed biomass generation facilities are a logical solution to this increasing demand. Ideally, the facility would be strategically located to reduce fiber transportation costs. In addition, it is also close to the transmission assets that will connect the generator to the network.

Typically, biomass generating facilities generate electricity for the grid, transporting high-temperature industrial steam to dry products. The steam is then channeled using heat exchange technology, and the heat is transferred to each building. No other source of energy is needed to heat the building. In summer, the system is reversed, with buildings using heat exchange technology to cool interiors. This approach is one of the most efficient uses of a renewable form of energy—forests.

The Ontario government should adopt a biomass strategy that does not just support existing generators. However, it also increases the further use of the available biomass. The strategy should also facilitate the creation of new biomass generators to meet the growing demand for electricity in the province. In addition, with incentives for the creation of district heating solutions for communities that currently rely on natural gas for heating.

Biomass-fired generation and district heating are also economic opportunities for a number of remote indigenous peoples who will soon be connected to the provincial grid. Excess electricity can be sold to the grid while developing a constant flow of heat throughout the community. Of all the energy solutions, biomass, together with district heating, will create the most jobs in a small Northern Ontario town.

Editor: Riana Nurhasanah


[1]Opinion: Forest biomass is key to Northern Ontario’s energy needs

[2]Forest Biomass Action Plan


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