Alternative Energy: Biofuels
Kim Jones, the design/build project manager for the Surrey Biofuel Facility, discusses the impact of biofuel from an operations standpoint. Kim discusses the desired goals and objectives held by the city of Surrey in order to turn 100% of the city’s curb-side waste into renewable natural gas (RNG). She elaborates on the concept of RNGs, and the biofuel facility’s ability to capture 100% biogas through a closed-loop system that utilizes the process of anaerobic digestion. The Surrey Biofuel Facility is the first of its kind in Canada and looks to reduce the carbon impact of the city while also reducing odour through Renewi’s revolutionary odour abatement system.
I am Kimberly Jones, the design/build project manager for Renewi. So, my job at the Surrey Biofuel Facility was to manage the design/build portion of the work. The Surrey Biofuel Facility is an organic waste processing facility built primarily for the city of Surrey. We take 100% of the city’s organic waste that’s collected curb-side from its residents and process it into renewable natural gas and compost. Through our odour abatement system we also produce ammonia sulphate, which can be used for fertilizer.
The biofuel facility started with the city of Surrey back in 2009. It had a vision to fuel its waste collection vehicles with RNG produced from its own residents’ organic waste. The biofuel facility helps reduce the city’s carbon footprint by 40,000 tonnes a year. It also helps the city meet its 70% diversion of organics from landfill.
RNG is renewable natural gas, so it’s gas produced through a biological process of decomposing waste, basically. Here at the biofuel facility, we look to optimize that process, so we control it and ensure the gas so we can upgrade it, and we do it through anaerobic digestion. Methane is released in your garden when your banana peel sits there for a year, we just speed it up through heat and technology and through the recirculation of the leachate which will speed it up. So, we control the bugs here, and we give them exactly what they need to produce the gas. So, we make sure they’re the right temperature. We make sure they have no oxygen at all, whereas, in your garden they’d be exposed to oxygen. So, we just do it in a very controlled way. There are other organic waste facilities in Europe that produce biogas and RNG. This is the first in North American that does this process.
We consider the biofuel facility a closed-loop system because the organics that are collected are used to make renewable natural gas which fuels the city’s collection vehicles, and they we also produce compost which in turn will grow more organics. The biggest challenge facing any waste facility, particularly organics, is odour. Everyone is always really concerned about odour. We put about 30% of our entire budget into odour abatement. We have four biofilters, an ammonia scrubber, and a 70-metre stack. We are very close to residential Langley. We are in an industrial area, but we’re very close to residential areas, and so far we’ve had no complaints at all.
The facility was designed to meet the city of Surrey’s needs for 25 years. So, our capacity is much more than what the city needs right now. In total we can process 115,000 tonnes per year. Right now the city delivers more than half of that, but we do have capacity to process other municipalities waste, or industrial, commercial, and institutional waste streams as well. Because this is a city of Surrey facility, they have first rights for the next 25 years. So, eventually we will be full with only the city’s waste. We hope to pick up additional ICI contracts, primarily because ICI is generally food waste and there’s no leaf and yard waste, or very little leaf and yard waste. The food waste produces a lot more biogas than when it’s mixed with leaf and yard waste. So, eventually we would like to get more ICI contracts or other municipalities. I think once everyone sees how successful this can be, and the closed-loop system, I don’t see how they wouldn’t adopt something like this.
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Sustainable Community Supported Fisheries
Shaun Strobel, the owner/operator of Skipper Otto’s Community Supported Fisheries, discusses the current state of community supported agriculture and the “farm-share” idea in the lower mainland of British Columbia. Shaun’s focus is on sustainable fishing and properly informing customers of the types of fish and seafood that they should be eating based on what is most sustainable for fish populations from year to year. Shaun relies heavily on data collected by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) in order to ensure that fishing runs are viable, and, regretfully, talks about the decline in fish monitoring in Canada in recent years.
My name is Shaun Strobel, I’m a commercial fisherman, and I work with my family running Skipper Otto’s community supported fisheries. Based on community supported agriculture, the farm-share idea, where thoughtful consumers put their money directly towards food producers. So, we sell our own fish to members, as we call them, rather than customers, and we expanded to also get fish from other small scale sustainable fisheries to consumers that really care about where their fish is coming from. We really like to direct people onto what is sustainable, and what is plentiful that year. Last year, 2016, was quite a weak year for sockeye salmon in some areas. Some came in just fine. Barclay Sound came in. Smith Inlet came in really well, and unexpectedly. But, the Fraser, there was no fish, and the media, rightly, picked up stories on, “hey, where are they sockeye salmon?” What was missed, was that in October, we had one of the best returns of chum salmon ever up the Fraser, in fact, October, 18th 2016 was the biggest single day catch of chum salmon in the Johnson Straits. The same fleet caught 800,000 of them, and all the rivers filled up. And, it wasn’t just there. Cowichan River was full of fish, it went terminal, which is what they say when they mean, “open until further notice for fishing,” because the river is plugged with fish. The Nanaimo River did well. The Puntledge did well. All the rivers were coming in. The hatchery over in Nitinat. The returns were fantastic. We were saying, “hey, here’s a lot of really interesting dishes and good ways to cook chum salmon. Please try it. It’s what there’s lots of.” So, that’s sort of what we mean by that, eating with the ecosystem, eating what there’s a surplus of, and maybe backing off on things that could be in short supply.
Currently, there are less rivers and salmon stocks in B.C. being monitored. Most of the rivers in B.C., nobody’s even looking. If there’s monitoring, and there’s not a strong stock, well, we don’t want to fish it anyway. But, we’d like to know. From the 70s through last year, with the Docee River fish counting fence, we knew, to the fish, what went through that to the spawning beds every single year and you could do the data. It’s still online. You can look back and say, “okay, if 80,000 went up, 4 years later this many, twenty went up.” Last year, nobody really expected much fishing, and when a couple hundred thousand fish went up the river it was very clear: well, here’s historical data, this run is plugged, it does best when there’s a hundred thousand fish, not two hundred thousand, open it for fishing, and away guys went and had a great season. This year? Mystery. It’s shut down. You know, first time in fifty years, nobody knows. It’s just an example, there’s a run that was very well monitored, very sustainably fished, and we can prove it, and now we can’t. The easiest way to not have a fishery is to just not know what’s happening.
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Crop Pollination: Honeybees
John Gibeau, a commercial beekeeper from Surrey, British Columbia, discusses the current climate of colony collapse disorder, crop pollination, sustainable farming, and the benefits of science and research in regards to helping beekeeper’s keep informed of best management practices for their colonies. John discusses the factors that lead to colony collapse disorder, including monoculture diets, climate, and other environmental factors. The Honeybee Centre offers crop pollination services to help local blueberry farmers in the lower mainland of British Columbia ensure crop survival. By providing these services, beekeepers offer a way for farmers to continue to farm sustainably as wild bee populations continue to decline. Without crop pollinators, John suggests that the food industry would be in trouble and discusses research in proteomics being done at the University of British Columbia as a source for providing beekeepers with important information about how to best manage their bee colonies.
My name is John Gibeau, I’m a commercial beekeeper from Surrey, British Columbia and my business is to rent bees to blueberry growers for the purpose of pollination. My company, Honeybee Centre has 1,400 bee hives, we’re growing, so our goal is to reach 3,500 bee hives in 5 years. And, we are the 4th largest beekeeper in British Columbia. The largest has 6,500 colonies. There’s only 6 people in B.C that make a living solely off bees, I’m one of the 6. Most of the beekeepers in B.C are hobby beekeepers, or semi-commercial - one, two, three hundred colonies, but they have another job somewhere else.
Crop pollination is a relatively new industry. Up until about 40 or 50 years ago, there were enough natural insects to pollinate the fruits and vegetables that we consume, and then with intensive agriculture came the need for crop pollination. So, intensive agriculture is, for example, blueberries, is the blueberry grower plants in 10-foot rows and almost 6-feet apart, and they’ve created a huge number of blossoms on a small parcel of land.
There are wild bees, but there’s fewer and fewer, and there’s not enough to pollinate large crops. Without honeybee crop pollination, we would have as much as a third less food and the could even affect beef production because in order for beef to be economically provided to the store, cows have to be fattened in a feed lot and feed lots rely on Alfalfa pollination and Alfalfa is a bee-pollinated plant. So, if you remove those pollinators, you remove a third of our food and it can even effect beef. It’s an issue with farming, is industry consolidation. Massive dairy farmers. Massive wheat farmers. Massive canola farmers. Massive beekeepers. The industry is consolidating, so now you have beekeepers with tens of thousands of colonies instead of two thousand colonies, and they just do what they do on a larger scale so they can absorb a bad year and take advantage of a good year.
For long term food security, we should be as North American farmers, we should go back to small scale farming. Small scale farming has strength and diversity. So, a small scale farmer is not using every square-inch of the property to grow one plant. There’s a corner for chickens, a corner for pigs, and maybe a corner for some milk if they have dairy cows and a plot for fruit and vegetables. That leads to a variety of foods so if one fails, the other revenue sources on the farm can pick up and take up that shortfall. That gives you strength and diversity. With that, the downside is you have higher costs of production. You don’t have massive amounts of field or one type of crop. You don’t have to rely on a beekeeper coming in to pollinate; you have your own bees. It comes at a higher cost, which is extended to the consumer. Consumers have to pay more money, but you have more food security for a region.
About 8, 9 years ago, there were some massive losses in the United States with no apparent cause, so it was dubbed Colony Collapse Disorder. The colonies collapsed. They died over a short period of time. It’s a disorder, but it was identified as to what caused it. The current consensus is, colony collapse is as a result of 3, or 4 maladies that affect a colony at the same time. If you add up 3, or 4 issues, mites, viruses, bacteria, and then a mono-diet, the bees are only eating dandelion nectar, or blueberry nectar, or raspberry nectar, and no other food source, no other variety, that stress can cause a complete collapse. To combat that, beekeepers have to become more scientific. The beekeeper, now, has to take samples of bees, send them off to a laboratory for virus testing, take samples of bees and wash them. The easiest way to wash them is icing sugar, it doesn’t kill the bees and the Varroa mite releases when the icing sugar, or powder gets between them, their covered in powder and they release off the bee and they drop to the bottom of the vessel so you can count the mites in there.
One of the current initiatives for research is the study of proteomics and UBC is a partner in that. The concept is, beekeepers send samples of bees into UBC with traits they know the colony has. For example, if a colony is hygienic, it cleans out the colony quickly after an interruption, that could be a way to deal with the Varroa mite. You have a hygienic bee that actually picks the mite off another bee and throws it outside. Hygienic behaviour is a desirable trait. If a beekeeper has a colony that they know is hygienic, they would take samples of bees, send them off to the UBC lab, the study of proteomics, and say “these bees come from a hygienic colony.” Then the UBC lab takes samples of the bees antennas, they analyze the protein composition, which is a proteomic study, and it’s like a signature for that trait. As they have enough samples and enough analysis of proteins, they can say, “oh, this is a hygienic bee colony that has these traits, this one over winter strongly, this one produces lots of honey, this one is gentle by nature. So, you have a study that will help a beekeeper select genetic stock based on the traits that the beekeeper wants. So, I’m a pollinator, so I want a bee that survives over winter, I want a high-survivability, with low winter honey consumption, that builds up quickly in the Spring, that’s gentle for my customers. If I can find queens that have those traits, I’ll pay more money for those queens and bring them into my colony and generate that type of bee.
We’ve become more scientific-based farmers. We have to do the science check, attend seminars, read books, read research papers, talk to scientists, and understand bees and bee maladies better.
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Wildfires: Urban Planning
Bruce Blackwell, the owner of BA Blackwell & Associates, discusses his role providing advice on fire ecology practices in British Columbia. Bruce discusses the nature of forest fires as well as best management practices for fuel management. He begins by discussing the accumulation of biomass that has occurred following the successful suppression of forest fires over the past 100 years, and how to mitigate the risk of fuels where such accumulation of biomass occurs. Bruce discusses the impacts of climate change, and what impacts longer dry seasons can have on an ecosystem in terms of fire. Bruce highlights the need for, and implementation of, community wildfire protection plans (CWPPs) as a means to mitigate the risk of wildfires around urban centres.
My name is Bruce Blackwell. I own a company named B.A. Blackwell and Associates Ltd., located in North Vancouver. I’m a registered professional forester, and a registered professional biologist, and I have a Masters degree from UBC in fire science.
Over the last hundred years, we have, in British Columbia, successfully suppressed fires to the point where you have accumulations of biomass that are high and unnatural and are actually leading to ecosystem change. They’re increasing fuel loads. And then when we get fires, the fires are typically more severe, more difficult to control, and have more negative impacts on the ecology of the site. Many of these ecosystems didn’t experience this high severity fire and so the attributes that make them valuable to wildlife are actually being destroyed. So, if we don’t do some management, we’re gonna see the attributes that are important to those species removed and it will be difficult to recreate them. Climate change expands the window of fire during the summer so essentially we used to have maybe 25 - 35 days of high and extreme fire weather, now we’re up in the 46-64 days of extreme to high weather. So, there’s a bigger window in which you can have lightning and/or an ignition that would cause damages. Fuel management in B.C is very much focused at taking out a lot of the dead and down fuel that’s accumulated in the absence of fire and trying to mimic what was there historically.
Community Wildfire Protection Plan looks at the community, maps the risks associated with the fuels around the community, and prescribes measures to mitigate the fuels and mitigate the risks to the community and really just sets a framework for how you’re going to do risk mitigation and what funding sources you’re going to have allocated to you (how do you get those funds). We do an inventory of the fuels and the fuel types and try to understand where those are in proximity to values at risk. We look at the probability of fire in a community and how aggressive that community should be in moving through those fuels. But, we also look at other attributes, like, we’ll look at are there a bunch of areas of houses that are built with materials that are vulnerable. Where are those in proximity to these hazards? Has the fire department got the training and capability to respond? Have they got equipment to respond? So, we might recommend that they buy a small sprinkler kit - twenty to thirty sprinklers - that they can mitigate the risk of those homes burning. We look at their vegetation on their properties. If they have a lot of cedar, juniper, these other species, then obviously we like to see them removed. We really work with municipal staff to try to identify where they have vulnerabilities and what they might do about it. And, building practices, unfortunately the development community is focused on making money and often in that focus they lose sight of some of the risks that they’re creating and they’re not mitigating those risks.
I’ve been consulting now in my thirtieth year all throughout the province, Alberta, and the Yukon. I’ve done work in Alaska and in Ontario. We do a lot of reporting, high level analysis for the government, for companies, we do work for first nations, and the private sector. We work for a very broad range of clientele who generally are looking for specialized services, expert witness, detailed site classifications, solving complex problems. I probably would say I’m pessimistic. Unless we develop some sound policies and really make a difference around development, I don’t see getting a hold of this problem for some time. And at the minimum it’s going to take us twenty years. Even if we’re really aggressive.
Certainly there’s lots of dialogue about all this, but the other commonality to this is this year it will probably rain all summer and then the urgency to get something done dries up a bit. So, if you don’t have a big fire season every three, or four, or five years, people forget about it and don’t do anything about it until it happens the next time and by then it’s too late. The other problem, to be quite honest, is that there’s a capacity issue. There’s not enough individuals trained in this discipline to have the kind of sizeable impact that we need to make. Ideally, if we could create a biomass industry here that utilizes material and can ship it off as chips for coal-fired electricity plants or chips that are used in other products, we’d be a lot further ahead.
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Tasha Murray, the executive director of the Invasive Species Council of Metro Vancouver (ISCMV), discusses the impact of invasive species in and around the metro Vancouver area. In this video, Tasha discusses the nature of invasive species, and how they come to exist in and around the Vancouver area. Specifically, Tasha takes us to a large patch of “Hog weed” and explains the environmental and health impacts of the plant on local plants, animals, and community. Tasha explores the notion of best management practices (BMPs) as a necessary requirement for dealing with invasive species’ that arise in a non-native environments. Furthermore, Tasha explains how individuals can best deal with invasive species within their own communities.
My name’s Tasha Murray, I’m the senior manager with the Invasive Species Council of Metro Vancouver. We are a not for profit organization, and our focus is helping to improve management of invasive species. We work a lot with multiple levels of government, the public, stewardship groups, contractors, practitioners who are out there managing invasive species, and providing support and resources.
An invasive species is, essentially, a living thing that has been moved from somewhere else on Earth because of some sort of human activity and it has been introduced to a new habitat. The nature of invasive species is that they’re very quickly able to adapt to the new environment, they are generally very aggressive, they’re fast growing, they may reproduce in a number of different ways very quickly, and they can establish themselves and take over a habitat very quickly, and so, they’re impacting all of the native species that require our habitat to grow and in many cases they’re displacing wildlife, they’re eliminating food sources or forage habitat for wildlife species, especially in our urban areas. They’re really isn’t a single park or green space that you can go to that hasn’t been impacted by invasive species in some way.
I’m standing in front of what is probably the most impressive patch of giant hog weed that I’ve ever seen. It has a sap in all parts of the plant that can be very toxic if you get the sap on your skin, that can cause up to third degree burns, and it can cause blindness. The flowering heads have now turned to seed and the seeds are now viable. They could produce new plants if they were to fall on the ground, and it’s quite a large and historic patch. So, it’s been here for many, many years and it will take many, many years before it can become controlled and be eradicated.
So, the field of invasive species seems to always be changing. The list of priority species is always getting bigger, it seems. So we’re learning about new potential species that might come to our region, but we’re also learning all the time about best management practices (or BMP’s for short form), and that’s sort of the tagline that we use to talk about the best strategy that we know to deal with these particular species in our region. I always encourage people, when they’re looking for management strategies, to not simply use the internet. You know, it really is important to use local resources because the nature of invasive species are that they behave differently here than they do in their native environment.
The European fire ant is a great example of a species that’s been fairly recently detected in B.C. In 2010, we first discovered European fire ants and it’s now found in Fraser Valley, Metro Vancouver, on the island, and a little bit in the interior as well. If I ever get reports of people being stung multiple times by small red ants, it’s a clue that it may be the European fire ant. It’s a pretty nasty sting because you’re usually not being stung just by one ant, you’re being stung multiple times by multiple ants. We’ve had cases in our region where people are sensitive to the stings and they’ve been hospitalized because of anaphylactic shock. It’s a health hazard, for sure. Fire ants behave totally differently here than they do where they infest other places and in their native environment. Our control measures and suggested management practices have completely changed in the last five years, because we have a leading entomologist working on fire ant issues right here in B.C.
New detections are not usually by somebody like me, although they could be by somebody like me, but I’m just one person. Part of the reason we focus on education is that the more people we have that have knowledge about invasive species and what the priority species are, what the watch species are, the better chance we have of detecting an infestation fairly early. We encourage all jurisdictions to have a program in place where all outdoor staff, whether it’s parks and trails maintenance, or a mowing crew, or engineering crew, that those kind of folks have knowledge about invasive species. Even if they can’t identify a new invader, or something they don’t recognize themselves, at least give them the tools so that they can look it up in a book when they get back to their office, or so they can call somebody like me to help them identify something they don’t recognize.
I think, in ten years, the field of invasive species management may look quite different than it does right now. Our particular focus on species may change. Our strategies may change. I think as time goes on, our awareness of invasive species may grow to the point where we may decide that some species we can live with. Maybe we shouldn’t be spending so much time on some of the lower priority species. I am excited about the future. I think we’re just going to get better at knowing what to manage, and when to manage, and how to engage more people.
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Water Resource Management
John Van der Eerden, the vice-president of water resources at Associated Engineering, discusses his role providing advice on water resources practices in the lower mainland of British Columbia. John begins by discussing Associated Engineering’s role in infrastructure, and their focus on addressing environmental concerns pertaining to infrastructure. John highlights Associated Engineering’s focus on minimizing and mitigating the impact of infrastructure on environments through risk-based and sustainable design. Specifically, John discusses the use of stormwater as a resource, adaptable dikes, and risk-based design in terms of flood protection. These types of developments challenge past approaches to water resources to adopt a more eco-friendly and sustainable approach to water resources in the lower mainland of BC.
My name is John Van der Eerden. I am the vice-president of water resources here at Associated Engineering, and in that role I’m responsible for assisting and providing advice to our water resources practices across the country. A lot of the work Associated Engineering does is related to infrastructure. When we look at infrastructure, we most often want to produce sustainable designs, and infrastructure by its very nature has some form of impact on the environment. We want to make sure that those impacts are minimized, that they’re mitigated to the degree possible, and if we can’t fully mitigate the impacts, we look at how we can compensate and provide an ultimately sustainable design.
The whole approach to managing stormwater has changed through the decades. If we go back to, maybe, the 1970s, we really dealt with drainage. We look at ways to get the water off the land as quickly as possible and the water was considered a nuisance. But as we’ve moved into the 1980s, 1990s, and post-2000, there’s been a real progression towards, first of all, managing stormwater and treating stormwater as a resource, and I say, more recently, it’s really looking at the environment values of green space in a more holistic manner. Rather than put a larger, more costly pipe in the ground, maybe it’s money better spent to retain a park or a wetland that can provide that function of storing and infiltrating water.
Much of the lower mainland is protected by a dike-system. Many of the dike alignments that were constructed throughout the 60s, 70s, and 80s, were constructed to, sort of, maximize the land available behind the dikes, without as much consideration to give the river room, and to provide the riparian habitat, and what that did is prevented the periodic inundation and flooding of those near-river areas. So, there’s real significant environmental benefits to that flushing that used to occur: it filters out sediments, it provides potential increase in aeration, it provides habitat for fish and amphibians, and also the ability of the river to convey high flows and flood. There is a bit of a trend, there’s definitely a desire to set back some dikes to make more room for the river to provide higher and improved ecological values. And, there’s some areas where that has been quite successful. For example, in Port Coquitlam, we were able to take an existing dike along the riverbank and set it back approximately 150 metres, I believe, from the riverbank to allow that intertidal flushing to occur once again in those tidal areas.
One of the things I think would be of real value to society is looking at more risk-based design in terms of flood protection. Rather than setting a standard that means all areas are protected equally, it would make more sense to a level of protection related to the consequences of failure. For example, should a golf course be protected to the same level of protection, say, as a downtown core? So, one particular project, we didn’t just look at the financial loss, we looked at the triple bottom line. We looked at environmental, social, and economic loss that would occur without the dikes. What we found, not surprisingly, is that it makes sense to provide a much higher level of flood protection to highly developed areas, while providing a much lower level of flood protection for areas that are lightly developed or maybe have other land uses, such as a golf course or something like that. There’s other benefits as well, because if you think about allowing an area like a golf course to flood from time to time, the water storage that occurs in that area attenuates the flow. So, it actually allows you to manage some of the water that’s propagating downstream and flooding and damaging other areas. So, using a risk-based approach to looking at flood-protection makes a lot of sense.
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