A FESBC grant is allowing Valley Carriers' Merritt division to haul slash away for electricity generation

Wood fibre to electricity

Wood fibre normally burned in forests as slash piles is being used to produce electricity, thanks to grant money funding a project proposal from Valley Carriers’ Merritt-based division.

The trucking company, which specializes in grinding forest fibre and transporting logs and residual wood products, received just over $416,000 in funds from the Forest Enhancement Society of BC.

Dave Conly, operations manager for FESBC, told Castanet Kamloops they had done previous work with Valley Carriers, who employed “innovative tools and techniques” to try and use slash.

“Valley brought forward a very cost effective proposal to utilize a large amount of fibre that was left behind as a result of primary harvesting,” Conly said.

“That material is uneconomic in terms of the forest industry today. It's basically small tops, broken branches, broken logs, rotten logs, things like that, that are really difficult to find good forestry products from and actually utilize.”

Conly said FESBC recognized Merritt had also been hit hard by the forestry downturn.

“It was a good community for us to be focused on in terms of assisting to maintaining jobs and helping to develop the bio-economy,” he said.

In a statement, Derek Mobbs, Interior operations manager for Valley Carriers, said the funding allowed them to remove fibre that is typically burned due to high hauling and transport costs.

“It’s great to see the wood fibre in the brush piles being utilized instead of burned, and to see extra value being created out of our local timber resources,” Mobbs said.

According to Conly, the project has helped keep 10 additional workers employed, operating the machinery used to load, grind and transport the fibre.

Ben Klassen, CEO of Valley Carriers, said in a statement the grant is projected to generate $1.74 million in revenue to help sustain community members who have been hit hard by sawmill curtailments and closures in the past several years.

Conly explained that companies will harvest timber to manufacture high-value lumber products or soft wood products, but small pieces of additional fibre are left behind.

“They make a choice to leave it behind, and as a result, they have to abate that…they have to reduce the wildfire hazards associated with those piles,” he said.

“Every year, at some point in the year, often when they have a little bit of snow on the ground, forestry crews will go out and will burn those piles. And the burning of those piles creates not only smoke and particulate in the air sheds and for the air that we breathe, but it also creates a number of gases that are emitted into the atmosphere.”

According to Conly, Valley Carriers work with companies licensed to log in various areas, getting permission to use their forest roads.

They find slash piles, and use a loader, a grinder and a type of transport truck to pick up the slash piles, grind it into hog fuel, and haul it away.

The material is brought to Merritt Green Energy to be converted into electricity.

Conly said the hog fuel is burned to heat steam, and the steam generates electricity, which is sold to BC Hydro through the grid.

“That becomes common electricity for industrial or residential usage in B.C.,” he said.

Conly said at this point, the value of the slash is less than what it costs to obtain it, which is why this type of grant funding is needed to help bridge the gap.

"I think the economy will continue, prices may rise generally over time as the bio-economy keeps moving forward. And that would generate more opportunities,” he said.

For the long term, Conly said FESBC hope to have additional grants to continue funding this type of work.

In the short term, he said they have committed to a couple years’ worth of activity on the project.

“We have a big program ahead of us for next year,” Conly said.

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