Bioenergy from Beetle-wood

Economic heartache and headache—that’s what mountain pine beetle (MPB) initially represented for the forest industry in Canada’s West. But beetle-killed wood also represents an avenue for governments and companies in British Columbia and Alberta to move forward with biomass energy projects. And if conditions change in Alberta, there could be a lot more going on in this arena in the future.

While beetle-killed wood bioenergy projects are booming in British Columbia (see the cover story of our January/February 2010 issue; www.canadianbiomassmagazine.ca/content/view/1555/), there are several reasons why there’s only a small amount of activity in Alberta at the present time. For one, the area of MPB infestation is much smaller in Alberta than in British Columbia, a fact everyone hopes will remain true going forward. In addition, bioenergy projects using beetle-killed wood in Alberta have yet to take off because it’s just so much farther to transport pellets or other forms of bioenergy to overseas markets than it is from British Columbia.

“Mountain pine beetle arrived about 10 years ago in the south of Alberta (south of Highway 1) and about 5 years ago in the north,” notes Duncan MacDonnell, a public affairs officer at Alberta’s Ministry of Sustainable Resource Development (SRD). The south also faced infestations in the 1940s and late 1970s. In west-central Alberta (the so-called “wood basket” of the province, where pine is very plentiful), the beetle arrived from the Prince George, British Columbia, area through wind-flight in 2006, and then again in 2009.