The BC Cleantech Cluster Initiative and BC Bioenergy Network hosted a roundtable with a number of leaders and innovators in the low carbon intensity gases industry.

The event was held at the Fortis BC boardroom on Nov 12, 2019.

What are Low Carbon Intensity Gases?

(image courtesy: Nexterra)

Before talking about the roundtable itself, let’s define our terms. You may have heard multiple terms used as this industry has evolved over the last decades. However, in terms of gaseous targets, the terminology has changed. The correct term is now “low carbon intensity gases” instead of “renewable gases”. This new term includes biomethane or renewable gas from anaerobic digestion of municipal and agricultural waste, hydrogen from electrolysis or natural gas and sequestering CO2, and using biomass to create synthesis gas and displace natural gas.

What are the Strengths of this Industry in BC?

(Image courtesy: Nexterra)

The discussion started with an overview of the state of the low-carbon intensity gaseous fuels industry in BC – what’s the state of the technology? Our feedstock supplies? Our infrastructure?

One of the first things that was noted as an area where BC seems to have a step up versus other jurisdictions is in the policy environment. The Low Carbon Fuel Standard in BC was seen as a gamechanger on both the supply and demand side. TheBC Carbon tax was also seen as an overall benefit to the industry, as well asClean BC’s target to work with natural gas providers to put in place a minimum requirement for 15 per cent renewable content in natural gas by 2030, (which Fortis BC is on board with). Stable, supportive policy and announced targets give the industry both stability and a goal to reach.

Another industry strength is that BC is a resource rich province. There is significant biomass in the forests, and a thriving agriculture industry that could provide feedstock for fuel production.

We also have an existing infrastructure in place to support the growth of this industry, including small refineries, a natural gas grid with existing operations, supportive utilities, landfills, research institutions, innovative technology, and a growing Indigenous Network of alternative energy expertise and projects.

What Needs to Happen for this Industry to Thrive?

(Image Courtesy UBC Media Relations)

Like many of the sectors we’ve been researching in the BC Cleantech Cluster project, there was a general spirit of ‘all hands on deck’ and ‘let’s mobilize’ in the roundtable. The industry targets issued by Fortis BC, the progressive policy environment, the overall global economic turn toward low carbon intensity gaseous fuels, and the pressures of meeting Canada’s Paris Accord agreement are pushing the growth of this industry quickly.

So, given the fact that this industry is growing and poised to grow, what challenges do we have? What is holding us back and what can we do to help this industry thrive?

The supply of feedstock was a concern. While there is a lot of biomass in BC forests, much of it is left on the forest floor, and there has to be an economic system (with price and supply certainty) developed to collect, transport and process it into low carbon gaseous fuels. While agricultural or municipal waste could be used as a feedstock, given the growth projections for this industry, the forestry biomass resource was seen as an important resource to develop.

Permitting time was discussed, with the suggestion that anything that could be done to speed up the process would help. One suggestion was to have a “one stop shop” for regulation and permitting, like the BC Oil & Gas Commission.

Let’s get the Shovels in the Ground! The Push for Projects

In order for this industry to thrive, there needs to be more investments in projects and infrastructure. As noted above, there are deep interconnections that have been developed with the forestry industry to develop forestry biomass as a feedstock for low carbon intensity fuels, and with that comes a need to leverage our forestry resources optimally (such as converting the biomass to bio-products as well as energy).

But, despite proven models and demonstration projects showing the economic viability of low carbon intensity gases (and other biofuels), companies don’t want to risk new fuel in their existing infrastructure because they fear it will damage it (for example syngas in lime kilns), or there is a perception that it will be too costly.

There needs to be a champion in the province who is willing to adopt the technology and invest in demonstration and development projects. Because of the significant capital cost requirements for new projects, it is important for there to be a cohesive and strategic plan for the whole industry to move forward together, and for as many stakeholders as possible to be at the table.

Next Steps – Meeting Targets, Deploying Tech & Building an Economy

The low carbon intensity gases industry is an industry whose time has come. It’s poised for growth and the roundtable participants see that and are excited about what they see as a real viable opportunity to develop BC into a global industry leader. Here’s a few next steps that were discussed:

  • Determine a cost analysis of steps involved to meet CleanBC targets
  • Establish economic mechanisms for emerging technologies
  • Create and fund more support structures for rapid development and deployment of innovative technologies
  • Determine the volumes and characteristics of community forests and biomass potential, and ways to optimize the economic value of forest biomass (e.g. leftover fiber)
  • Update policies to put value on non-market streams, allow access to feedstock, support the development and scaling of biotechnology and incentivize improved practices in this sector.
  • Establish clear subsidies and compliance measures (especially with regards to hydrogen)
  • Form alliances with gas utilities of other provinces
  • Diversify risk through innovative financing models such as green bonds and incentive programs
  • Develop incentives to attract and retain skilled people in BC (especially with experience in gases)
  • Market the story of the economic viability and potential of low carbon intensity gases to attract public support and investment

The low carbon intensity gas industry is a good-news story for BC, and it has the potential to be an even-better story in the years ahead. Collaboration is key to success.