New Brunswick

N.B. city explores an overlooked heat source: its own industries

The city of Saint John is exploring how to use waste energy from some of its largest industrial businesses to heat buildings in the uptown core.

Saint John studies how waste bioheat from pulp mill, other industries could heat uptown buildings

The city is exploring how to use waste heat from the Irving pulp mill to heat nearby homes and businesses. (Connell Smith/CBC)

The city of Saint John is exploring how to use waste energy from some of its largest industrial businesses to heat buildings in the uptown core. 

Councillors voted on Monday night to ask Natural Resources Canada to fund a feasibility study by TorchLight Bioresources Inc., a consulting and research company. 

Mayor Donna Reardon is excited by the idea of recycling energy. 

She said it's "very frustrating" to see heat released as a waste product by industry when it could potentially be used to heat buildings — and help the city reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the process. 

"It's waste heat. But why waste it?" she said. 

Jamie Stephen, TorchLight's managing director, told councillors that the study will look at how much energy is given off as a by-product of industry in the city.

He said district energy systems essentially use a central source of heat or cooling, then distribute that energy through hot or cold water pipes to nearby buildings. 

Canada lags behind most northern countries when it comes to district energy systems, even though we lead the world when it comes to heating buildings and hot water, according to TorchLight Bioresources. (Torchlight Bioresources)

Given Saint John's climate, the study is only looking at delivering hot water, Stephen said in an interview with CBC News on Tuesday.

"Instead of every building having its own furnace or boiler, there's a central boiler that supplies multiple buildings and distributes that energy just as we do with water," Stephen told councillors during Monday night's council meeting. 

In fact, he said, such systems are a lot easier to operate than delivering water and collecting wastewater from homes and businesses. 

Such systems are a lot more common in Europe than in Canada.

Stephen says there are approximately 180 in Canada, including many in the downtown core of some of the country's largest cities. 

If the city of Saint John is serious about meeting its greenhouse gas emissions targets, it has to invest in a project like this, said Samir Yammine, the city's manager of asset and energy management.

The city has committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent by 2025, and to being carbon neutral by 2040.

"In order to meet this type of target, we need to do this type of project," said Yammine. "The district energy system, in my opinion, is an essential part ... for us to meet our greenhouse gas target and to be carbon neutral."

He said it makes sense to use waste energy rather than paying for additional energy.

"Before we look at adding more renewable energy or adding more energy," he said, "we should look at how we can make things efficient. How can we recover our waste energy and make it suitable?"

Pulp mill eyed as primary source

Stephen said the feasibility study will look at using industrial waste bioheat from the Irving pulp and paper operation as the primary energy resource.

But, he said, other sources could also be added, such as heat recovered from the treatment of raw sewage, or any kind of industry that generates heat in its operation. 

He said one system in Stockholm uses 60 different sources — including server farms, which produce a lot of heat — to generate heat for the city. 

Essentially, the waste heat is collected and stored in a central location before being distributed to the buildings connected to the system. 

As a starting point, the feasibility study will estimate the heat demands for all of the buildings in the central part of the city, but the project could expand beyond the south-central peninsula if warranted.

Stephen said systems are more efficient when the customer base is more dense, as in urban cores. 

The key is to make heating costs lower than current levels, as an incentive to join the network. 

Stephen said it's vital to access the federal and provincial funding intended for green projects like this one. As long as the project receives a 73 per cent grant, it is viable, he said.

He said it's also important to remember that fossil fuel costs will continue to rise. 

So far, there is no price tag on the project. 

Several ownership models on the table

As for ownership, that is also to be determined, said Stephen. 

There are several models in use. In Europe, for example, these systems are most commonly owned by the municipality, but in Canada, they tend to be privately owned, frequently by pension funds, because of the high initial cost and the slower return on investment, Stephen said.

Cooperatives, where those on the grid own the system, are also common. 

Stephen said the goal of the feasibility study is to get the city to the point where they can begin to secure the funding from other partners, including other level of government.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mia Urquhart is a CBC reporter based in Saint John. She can be reached at mia.urquhart@cbc.ca.

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