Technological advances have allowed for an increased production of renewable energy in Ontario. Despite this advancement however, the province is still heavily dependent on the use of fossil fuels to meet the growing energy demands. As of 2015, Ontario’s energy supply consists of 37% nuclear, 28% gas and oil, 29% hydroelectric, 9% wind and 1% biofuel generation (IESO, 2015). The combustion of fossil fuels negatively affects the environment because of the associated greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution (Solomon, 2010). Significant advancements towards utilizing alternative energy sources is necessary given the increasing demand for energy and depleting fossil fuel resources (Kautto & Peck, 2012). Solving the complex energy issue is going to take leadership at all levels of government to provide the necessary policy and funding required to get the energy transition in motion (McKendry, 2002). However, there is opportunity for smaller communities to take leadership and accelerate the energy transition by adopting more sustainable energy generation strategies at a regional or local level. Creating energy from biomass as an alternative to fossil fuels has become a larger reward as its technology continues to improve, specifically for areas high in biomass resources (Kautto & Peck, 2012).
Biofuel production provides a continuous and transferable supply of heat, electricity and fuels, and is produced from plant biomass resources through modern conversion technologies (Faaij, 2006). Second generation biofuels can be produced from a number of dry organic material such as timber, agricultural residues, dedicated herbaceous or woody crops, and municipal compost waste (Calvert & Mabee, 2014). Public policy and private investment approaches are increasingly focusing on options regarding second generation liquid biofuel production which provides local markets with liquid fuels such as ethanol (Calvert & Mabee, 2014). Compared to first generation biofuel options, second generation tends to have more ecological benefits and net energy outputs, and are less disruptive to food production (Khanna et al., 2011). Occupying usable agricultural land solely for the purpose of biofuel production, defined as first-generation biomass, is controversial due to strict competition for food crops and food security now and in the future (Koh & Ghazoul, 2008). An example of first generation energy production would be producing nutritional crops such as corn and using the grain to produce fuel. Therefore by focusing on second-generation biomass, this research strives to end the stigma related to crop competition by using non-food based biomass (Sims, et al., 2010).
Within this study there are several research gaps which inhibits planning and implementation of successful biofuel production sites. For example, there are few studies that have included the potential biomass availability from both forestry and agriculture sources. Therefore, providing policy makers and service providers with a GIS-based integrated resource assessment of both forestry and agricultural resources would help to identify greater theoretical yields of biomass resources. Diversification of biomass supply would help to avoid cost and seasonal biomass availability fluctuations (Calvert & Mabee, 2014).
There are also large site-specific challenges related to bioenergy generation. Biomass can only be transported short distances due to its relatively low energy density. In addition, biomass resources are dispersed over large geographical areas while their biochemical properties vary considerably over space (Calvert & Mabee, 2014). Successful bioenergy production sites are therefore limited to areas of spatially high biomass density (Calvert & Mabee, 2014).
Due to these site-specific challenges of biofuel resources, geographic information of biomass resources at a regional level is critical for effective planning and investing decisions regarding the implementation of bioenergy production (Richard, 2010). A geographic information system (GIS) enables the user to tackle crucial uncertainties regarding second-generation biofuel supply location, quantity, and crop types. As biofuel options become an increasingly growing option for renewable energy technologies, there is an increased interest in high resolution, spatially distributed approaches to determining biomass resources within regions (Calvert & Mabee, 2014).
There are many reasons for which addressing these crucial oversights is beneficial to policy makers and service providers. The objective for promoting biofuel production is to potentially increase Ontario’s energy security for its future in transitioning to a lower carbon economy, and to stimulate further rural development (McKendry, 2002). In addition, bioenergy transitions help to enhance climate change mitigation efforts (Khanna, et al., 2011). Successful bioenergy production at the regional level could provide a framework for national initiatives.
Purpose of the Research
The purpose of this research is to investigate the theoretical quantity and spatial density of available second-generation biomass resources using GIS-based software, in order to determine the feasibility of a potential biorefinery near the City of Guelph.