In World War II, people would use tiny sticks and twigs to fuel their car, said Ian Wilson at a Slave Lake energy presentation on Sept. 3. At the time, fossil fuels were being used for the war effort, so out of necessity people used tiny pyrolysis machines to make biofuel out of sticks. This also makes biochar.
Wilson is one of Keepers of the Athabasca energy experts and a presenter at the workshop. He’s an electrician. He worked for 25 years in the Alberta oil sands, then became interested in renewable energy. Last year, he joined the board of Keepers, which is an Indigenous-led environmental group with a focus on the Athabasca River Basin. This flows from the northern part of the Columbia Glacier in the Rocky Mountains and into Lake Athabasca north of Fort McMurray. Water from this lake eventually reaches the Arctic Ocean. This group is in the midst of merging with Keepers of the Water,which will expand the focus to the entire Arctic basin.
Local wood can be used to make power, Wilson said, not by just burning it, but by dividing it into wood alcohol and biochar. Wood alcohol is a carbon neutral fuel, and biochar can be inserted into the soil to give plants energy to grow and sequester carbon.
Britannica defines pyrolysis as “the chemical decomposition of organic (carbon-based) materials through the application of heat… Two well-known products created by pyrolysis are a form of charcoal called biochar (created by heating wood) and coke (created by heating coal). Pyrolysis also produces condensable liquids (or tar) and noncondensable gases.
“Pyrolysis has numerous applications of interest to green technology. It is useful in extracting materials from goods such as vehicle tires, removing organic contaminants from soils and oily sludges, and creating biofuel from crops and waste products.”
Another interesting innovation mentioned in the session was micro-hydro. A small waterwheel can power a cabin. It is built so that fish can swim right through it. As long as the stream is flowing, the device should work. It is not common in Canada, but used quite a bit in Norway. There are also smaller ones used in sewer pipes in cities such as Portland, Oregon.
These were two of the examples of existing energy-efficient technology at the Sept. 4 Keepers of the Athabasca seminar ‘Where’s My Power?: gaining power by saving energy.’ The seminar also covered the history of energy use and various suggestions on how to reduce energy consumption, save money, and gain personal power or agency.
This presentation will be given at various Native Friendship Centres within the Athabasca River basin. It is also available as part of free energy audits until the end of October.
Until October, the Keepers of the Athabasca will be doing free energy audits of buildings in the Slave Lake area. Some examples so far of Slave Lake organizations that have had audits are: the Wesleyan Church, St. Peter’s Ecumenical Church, and the Slave Lake Mosque. In High Prairie, the Native Friendship Centre had one. While all these examples are nonprofits, the audits are available to anyone including individuals, businesses, and community governments.
“I’ve had a lot of fun going around doing those energy audits,” said Wilson. Some of the newer buildings are very energy efficient and the older ones have potential.