Frequently Asked Questions about the UBC Bioenergy Research Demonstration Facility (BRDF)

How does the BRDF support UBC’s Campus as a Living Laboratory concept?

UBC is transforming itself from primarily a research powerhouse to an innovation hub for British Columbia and North America. The “Campus as a Living Laboratory” concept brings together research, operations and industry partners to address some of the most pressing sustainability issues facing society today. The University combines the talent of its researchers and knowledge of its operators with the expertise of some of the world’s most innovative companies –many of them based in BC.

The BRDF is a partnership between UBC and two of the world’s leading developers of green technology—Vancouver-based Nexterra Energy Corporation and GE Power and Water. The facility is a Campus as a Living Laboratory project integrating UBC’s core academic mandate (research and teaching) with the University’s infrastructure and business operations. UBC is committed to taking advantage of its unique capacity for research and problem solving to embrace and deploy leading-edge technology and concepts using the campus infrastructure as a real-world demonstration and testing lab.

What is biomass?

Biomass is a generic term to describe plant material that is used, in a variety of forms, as fuel to generate energy. Examples of wood-based biomass include wood grindings, shavings, bark, clean construction and demolition waste and chips. The purpose of using biomass is to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by replacing conventional fuels such as natural gas or coal with a renewable fuel.

The BRDF’s fuel supply is biomass, which is a carbon neutral fuel alternative to fossil fuels.

How do the BRDF’s operating modes work?

The BRDF has two operating modes. The first, Thermal Only Mode, uses commercially proven gasification technology developed by Nexterra Energy Corporation to turn biomass into a synthesis gas or syngas. The syngas replaces natural gas used to produce steam and hot water to meet campus heating needs.

In the second Biomass Cogeneration/Combined Heat and Power (CHP) Mode, the syngas is conditioned (i.e. cleaned) to remove impurities and fed into a GE Jenbacher gas engine that drives the generator to produce electricity.

Thermal heat from the engine is also recovered in two ways:

  1. By capturing exhaust gas heat in the heat recovery steam generator
  2. By using heat recovery from the engine lub oil and cooling water systems

Thermal heat production from the engine is directed via heat exchangers to UBC’s Academic District Energy System (ADES) for campus use.

What is the BRDF’s production sequence?

  1. Two or three truckloads of biomass fuel are delivered to the facility daily
  2. The biomass is screened for oversized and non-woody material, dried, if required, and then gasified to produce a synthesis gas (syngas)

When operating in Thermal Only Mode:

  1. Oxygen is added to the syngas and is burned in the oxidizer, downstream of the gasifier. The hot flue gas from the oxidizer is then directed through the fire tube boiler to produce steam
  2. The steam is converted to hot water via steam to hot water heat exchangers, and distributed through UBC’s Academic District Energy System (ADES) to heat campus buildings

When operating in Biomass Cogeneration/Combined Heat and Power (CHP) Mode:

  1. All of the syngas is cleaned and conditioned to remove impurities such as tars that would “foul” an internal combustion engine
  2. The conditioned syngas is cooled, filtered and injected into the internal combustion engine connected to the generator to produce electricity
  3. The electricity is distributed throughout the campus via the UBC power grid
  4. Recovered engine exhaust heat is used to create steam, which is directed into UBC’s (ADES) via steam to hot water heat exchangers.
  5. Recovered engine lub oil and coolant water heat is used to heat hot water through a heat exchanger, which is directed into UBC’s (ADES)
  6. Impurities removed during syngas conditioning are returned to the gasifier
  7. About 25 per cent of the clean syngas is surplus to the engine’s needs, and is directed back to the oxidizer for use in Thermal Only Mode

Will the BRDF generate revenue?

Yes. The electricity produced by the BRDF will feed into UBC’s power grid, which will result in revenue to UBC through a “Load Displacement Agreement” (LDA) with BC Hydro. UBC is the largest public sector, single site emitter of greenhouse gases in BC, and BC Hydro’s second largest customer.

How does the BRDF provide education and research opportunities for the UBC community?

The BRDF provides faculty and students with the real-world opportunity to study, test, teach and apply lessons learned at the facility. There are also opportunities for UBC operations staff and academics to collaborate and enhance teaching and research.

Where is the BRDF located at UBC?

The University of British Columbia’s Vancouver campus is situated on cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The BRDF is a low profile and architecturally striking building within a forested area of the campus adjacent to the student residences, research labs and operations facilities. The building is set amongst trees and enhanced with natural landscaping, visually supporting the integration of the facility into the neighbourhood.

Who provided funding for the BRDF?

Funding for the BRDF was provided by:

  • The Government of Canada (Natural Resources Canada and Western Economic Diversification Canada)
  • The Province of British Columbia (BC Innovative Clean Energy Fund and the Ministry of Forests, Mines and Lands)
  • FP Innovations
  • Canadian Wood Council
  • BC Bioenergy Network
  • Sustainable Development Technologies Canada
  • BC Hydro
  • The University of British Columbia

Are there any research projects underway at the BRDF?

Yes. The BRDF provides unique research opportunities to explore areas such as:

  • Community scale heat and power system
  • Hydrogen and fuel cell research
  • Electro-chemical battery storage
  • Catalytic tar cracking
  • CLT life cycle study
  • Metro Vancouver fuel study
  • Examination of corrosion mechanisms in steel vessels
  • Advanced integrated AC-DC systems
  • High temperature hydrogen membrane extraction
  • Added value ash study

Are tours provided of the BRDF?

The University of British Columbia offers free tours of the BRDF in addition to a number of green buildings on campus. Tours can be booked through UBC Sustainability.