Sustainable Solutions Backing Biomass Power
What happens when Hans Duerichen and John Egenolf join forces? Well this year, the dynamic duo won NSIS’s ‘Excellence in Innovation’ Award for the Smithers Chamber of Commerce’s Business Excellence Awards.
About Hans Duerichen
Originally from Austria, Hans Duerichen and his family immigrated to Canada when he was seven years old and settled in Smithers, BC. Upon graduating from Smithers High School, he attended the University of British Columbia to obtain his Mechanical Engineering Degree. After finishing his post-secondary education, Hans worked for six years at a pulp mill where he realized the industry’s innate contribution to air, water and land pollution.
According to Wikipedia, the pulp and paper industry is the third largest industrial polluter in both Canada and the US and releases well over 100 million kg of toxic pollution each year. Worldwide it is the fifth largest consumer of energy, accounting for four percent of all the world’s energy use.
Having first-hand experience of this type of pollution, Hans decided to leave his position and return to the Smithers area where he took a position teaching hydraulics for the Northwest Community College. After a year, a neighbor asked him to design an eco-friendly heating system. This peaked his interest and was the impetus of RSF Energy or rather Renewable Solid Fuels Energy Ltd. Hans ran the company for nineteen years focusing on using clean, green energy in order to help conserve fossil-fuel usage. However it eventually became too expensive to import steel products into the Northwest and as a result, he sold his company to a Quebec-based firm in 1997.
At that point, Hans went back to good, old-fashioned engineering where he produced electricity from biomass. Biomass is plant matter used to generate electricity with steam turbines and gasifiers or produce heat, usually by direct combustion. Examples include dead trees, yard clippings, wood chips and even municipal solid waste. He developed a number of systems in conjunction with a company who funded the trial projects, however, none of the systems were affordable for the average user.
Eventually Hans designed a small CHP system that used wood waste to produce heat and power. This innovative design has the potential to heat both homes and businesses efficiently however he has not succeeded in producing an economically viable product for the market. This winter Hans is working with contacts in the US to fine-tune the system so that families, farms or small businesses can be off the grid. In the meantime, the boilers themselves are for sale and doing extremely well.
About John Egenolf
Enter John Egenolf. As a Structural and Civil Engineer, John and his family immigrated to Canada five years ago from Germany. How did they end up living in Smithers, BC? Pure coincidence. Touring through the Northwest, their motor home accidentally broke down and they were forced to hang out in Smithers for over a week while they waited for the new parts to arrive. This breakdown turned out to be a blessing in disguise as they soon realized how much they loved the area and wanted to raise their family there.
John originally worked in construction and always had a strong interest in renewable energy. He decided to start his own business called Biomass Energies that focused on creating a combined heat and power system using a biomass gasification system.
Biomass gasification means incomplete combustion of biomass resulting in production of combustible gases consisting of Carbon monoxide (CO), Hydrogen (H2) and traces of Methane (CH4). This mixture is called producer gas. Producer gas can be used to run internal combustion engines (both compression and spark ignition), can be used as substitute for furnace oil / natural gas in direct heat applications and can be used to produce, in an economically viable way, methanol – an extremely attractive chemical which is useful both as fuel for heat engines as well as chemical feedstock for industries. (1)
With a functional prototype in hand, John applied for the Scientific Research and Experimental Development tax credit through the Canadian Revenue Agency. The SR & ED is designed to help Canadian small businesses develop new techniques and technologies. He hopes to hear back very soon with the necessary capital to move forward. He is also in contact with the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT), as well as, the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC).
This year, John’s goal is to fully automate the system and seek out a test customer who is willing to purchase one of the first units. Upon implementation and testing, John can continue to refine and build an improved prototype in 2012.
The greatest challenge is not to make something work but to automate it so the customer can operate it safely and does not have to do anything to keep it running. Keeping it affordable and competitive with today’s energy costs are other key challenges as well as navigating the complex waters of getting products certified with the Canadian Standards Association in a timely manner. Convincing people to change their habits from fossil fuels to biomass is also a big hurdle. Many people are not aware of the alternatives and the benefits.
Collaboration is Key
Together Hans and John are working on marketing, sales and installation. Most recently, they have installed a boiler that will heat the fire hall in Granisle on the shores of Babine Lake with plans to get the fuel chips from a local source in Burns Lake.
The deployment of renewable energy just makes the best sense – economically, socially and environmentally. BC has an abundance of biomass including all of the dead pine. Ideally one’s fuel source should be within 20km of where they use it creating regional small systems rather than huge systems that involve lots of travel and expense.
Be on the lookout next summer for an educational awareness program in the form of a mobile demonstration facility.
Footnote 1: (1) Anil K. Rajvanshi, Director, Nimbkar Agricultural Research Institute, Alternative Energy in Agriculture
Story by: Naomi Gourlay