Nova Scotia’s Biorefinery Plan cites full-tree harvesting, other requirements to make it competitive

Nova Scotia’s Biorefinery Plan cites a condensed softwood sawmill industry, full-tree harvesting, a 2+% mandate for biodiesel, slacker Allowable Gross Vehicle Weight regulations to make it competitive, but is vague on role of primary forest biomass and short on carbon accounting; senior NSDNR bureaucrats have been directly involved in developing the plan.

In an earlier post ( Nova Scotia’s Biofuel Bonanza, Jan 27, 2017), I commented on a NSDNR Press Release extolling the prospects for developing “an innovative biorefinery that produces an alternative fuel from renewable sources of fibre” (See NSDNR: Innovation Hub Makes First Year Progress, Jan 26, 2017).

I expressed concerns that

(i) biofuel initiatives would perpetuate the drive begun in the late 50s/1960s to convert our mixed, multi-aged Acadian forest to industrial conifer-dominated forests clearcut on 50-year rotations… Combined with the fragile state of our soils because of poor buffering capacity and acid rain, and climatic warming effects on species such as balsam fir and black spruce, I suggested that it’s only a matter of time that would see use of the forests to produce liquid fuels liquidating the forests themselves;

(ii) there seemed to be a lot of government handouts driving this process;

(iii) there is pesky issue of whether these “green fuels” are really green.

More details about what is envisaged are contained in a “Coles-Notes” document, “Value Proposition for a Biorefinery Sector in Nova Scotia” posted on the website for, a Nova Scotia based “consulting firm that specializes in helping clients deliver innovation”. The document is dated 01/18/2017, with and FPInnovations identified as the leads. Other sponsors are identified as ACOA, Canada (The Feds), EMERA, InnovaCorp (early stage venture capital; a NS Crown Corporation); Nova Scotia (The Province). FPInnovations describes itself as “a not-for-profit world leader that specializes in the creation of scientific solutions in support of the Canadian forest sector’s global competitiveness and responds to the priority needs of its industry members and government partners.”

A chart identifies 40 individuals from these entities that are “directly involved” including two senior bureaucrats from NSDNR: Allan Eddy (until January 2017 Associate Deputy Minister of Natural Resources, now in the same position in Agriculture and Fisheries and Aquaculture) and Jon Porter who is Executive Director of the Renewable Resources Branch of NSDNR.

Beyond the direct involvement of two senior NSDNR in this process, there are a number of aspects in the description of the biorefinery initiative that I wonder about, highlighted in bold below.

The group “leveraged data from the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources, as well as other iHub projects in order to generate an accurate digital depiction of the province’s forest products supply chain” and “build a linear programming model capable of performing a comprehensive analysis of the forest products supply chain in Nova Scotia. They used the model to to examine two alternatives to the “baseline scenario, representing the actual wood flow across the province”, alternative scenario 1, illustrating a hypothetical situation based on the assumption that softwood sawmill capacity in the province is consolidated; and ‘alternative scenario 2, illustrating the situation in which a large biorefinery is added to the current mill network”.
It would be nice if the “accurate digital depiction of the province’s forest products supply chain” were made publicly available, given difficulties in accessing such info otherwise (re: The case of the disappearing forest age class data). For other thoughts on mills, see Looking to the Finland model to find Nova Scotia’s forestry potential, CBC Feb 13, 2017.

The group would like to see a 2% or even 5% mandate for biodiesel in Nova Scotia’s marine and heating fuel supply chain which would “be the de-risking of a significant portion of a commercial biorefinery’s output, while allowing the proponent to explore high-value export opportunities.” Why is “De-risking” necessary for a project that holds so much promise?

The group estimated that “there are 510,000 odt per year of harvest residues that could be sustainably recovered if forest management policy would allow for it, [ODT: oven dried tonne] and if proper contractor infrastructure was in place. Volumes would also increase if sawmills produce at full capacity, fulltree harvesting is permitted. Did they model impacts of full-tree harvesting?

The group found that “delivered roundwood costs in Nova Scotia are similar to adjacent jurisdictions, varying with supply and demand conditions, but no competitive advantage is evident.” An argument for government intervention in the market place?

“In order to increase demand for bio-based fibres in Nova Scotia, improvements to the efficiency of the fibre supply chain will be required…. It is with this in mind that the Supply Chain project was undertaken, looking at trucking infrastructure, training initiatives for contractors and equipment operators, and opportunities to improve the operational planning processes for contractors.” There is a problem, apparently, with regulations limiting Allowable Gross Vehicle Weights (AGVWs) on on certain road classifications which results in transportation costs that are 40% to 119% higher, depending on the configuration of the truck.”.. although it is acknowledged that “Nova Scotia’s Allowable Gross Vehicle Weights (AGVWs) are generally competitive with other provinces”… So evidently the province will be asked to weaken the regulations so we are more competitive.

“Opportunities for improvement identified through this project include centralizing planning information, standardizing the planning process on Crown land”. We regularly hear from NSDNR about the virtues of the standardized process now in place.

The document is quite vague on the extent to which the biorefinery would utilize forest “wastes” versus primary forest biomass. It puts a lot of focus on the volume of wood supply without stating the markets for primary forest biomass, leading one to suspect that that market will include the biorefinery. The nature of the feedstock needs to be very explicit because of the large difference in GHG emissions between using primary forest biomass to replace fossil fuels and using what are genuinely wastes from wood produced for other uses. (See: Natural Resources Canada GHG Calculator confirms Nova Scotia forest bioenergy schemes are worse than coal). The report makes no comment on GHG balances.

There is no mention of serious limitations to sustainability of wood production related to the inherently poor buffering capacity of a majority of Nova Scotia’s forested landscape, combined with acid rain and removals of base cations by harvesting, now well documented by peer reviewed NSDNR research.

While the document calls for “standardizing the planning process on Crown land”, there is little reference to private woodlands.

A lot of public funding has gone into this process and the BioApplied/FPInnovations document is heavy on seeking out more government programs, e.g., via Canada’s Defence Procurement Strategy, that could be tapped to help drive their envisaged Biorefinery Sector in Nova Scotia. In my view it all has the ring of direct and/or indirect handouts to industries that couldn’t make it otherwise and raises a lot of questions about NSDNR priorities and planning.

But PLEASE view the document directly and make your own assessment.

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