Events / 6th Annual Bioindustrial Meeting: November 22-25, 2015 / Conference Abstracts / Poster Abstracts / The Evolution of a Willow Biomass Program - From Whitecourt to Oil Sands and Everything in Between

The Evolution of a Willow Biomass Program - From Whitecourt to Oil Sands and Everything in Between

Martin Blank and Richard Krygier.
Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Forest Service, Canadian Wood Fibre Centre Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

From humble beginnings in 2006, on a 0.8 ha coppice plantation of willow and hybrid poplar, the Canadian Wood Fibre Centre’s ‘Fibre Production and Bioremediation Using Short Rotation Woody Coppice (SRWC)’ program has evolved to hundreds of acres of commercial willow biomass and promising oil sands reclamation potential. Our research has focused on utilizing the rapid growth rate and other attributes of these plants to produce woody biomass for the rapidly developing bio-economy, provide environmental services, and to restore ecosystem functions on disturbed sites in the Boreal forests of Alberta offering values along the way.

We irrigated high density willow and poplar plantations to increase woody biomass production and to provide small rural communities with a cost effective, environmentally friendly alternative to sewage wastewater discharge while producing biomass and wood fibre for the forest sector and the new bio-economy across Canada. Our research results indicate that the potential exists to utilize woody plants, like willows and poplars, to treat wastewater at 60% of the cost of traditional ‘engineered’ water treatment solutions, while increasing wood biomass production by 10-30%.

Energy and other industrial activity cumulatively disturb large areas of forest land. We can select and use trees rather than typical agronomic plant mixes, to reclaim challenging disturbed forest sites, thereby more efficiently and rapidly restoring forest ecosystem functions and returning the disturbed sites to the productive forest landbase. Fifteen willow clones found tolerant to mixtures of oil sands process affected water (OSPW) containing high sodium in a greenhouse study were outplanted in an area with high sodium and hydrocarbons in the soil. Survival was high and some clones grew more than 1.8 metres in the first year.