Willow biomass plantation project in Whitecourt, Alberta, finds irrigation from treated wastewater led to 30% more tree growth than non-irrigation; research under way to evaluate viability of using willow for bioenergy commercially

WHITECOURT, Alberta , December 2, 2011 (press release) – Whitecourt’s Willow Bioenergy Plantation was established in 2006 as a partnership project between Natural Resources Canada, Alberta Environment and other national agencies to research the potential of wastewater and other waste products to increase biomass production.

The goal is to increase the production of biomass for bioenergy and bioproducts while using treated wastewater that would otherwise be discharged into a river. The willow and poplar plantings at the Whitecourt Wastewater Treatment Plant recycle municipal wastewater, nourishing the plants through irrigation pipes.

The Whitecourt project uses willow plantations that are being grown both with and without irrigation from treated municipal wastewater. Harvesting of the willow took place today east of Graham Acres near the wastewater treatment plant. There were approximately 90 people in attendance. This is the second time the willow has been harvested since the project began. The willow was harvested by two different methods:
• The willow was cut and chipped using two harvesting machines - one of the harvesters is a converted sugar cane harvester.
• Some of the willow was also baled with a baler.

The harvested willow will be sent to Edmonton for research. Thus far, it has been shown that there is 30% more growth in the irrigated willow vs. the non-irrigated willow. Research is underway to determine if willow bioenergy production can be commercially viable in Canada.

There is great potential for this technology to both supply energy and remove treated wastewater. It is estimated that 7 hectares of willow would use all of the treated wastewater of a 200-person community. In Whitecourt this past year, 7 million litres of treated wastewater were sent to the irrigation system of the biomass project, instead of flowing into the Athabasca River.

Funding for this project is provided by the following partners: Alberta Environment, Geoflow Inc., Canadian Forest Service, Town of Whitecourt, and the Canadian Biomass Innovation Network.

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