Bioenergy is energy produced from renewable, biological sources such as biomass. Biomass is plant material that can be turned into fuel to supply heat and electricity. This article will focus on forest biomass, which is the most common source in Atlantic Canada.

Biomass is considered a source of clean, renewable energy. Energy from forest biomass uses residual waste from sawmills, commercial operations and harvesting, low-quality logs, and naturally fallen trees to generate energy.

It is considered renewable because otherwise, this material would be sent to a landfill as waste, and because trees are replanted in sustainably managed forests. Biomass is considered clean energy because, unlike fossil fuels, trees sequester carbon dioxide as they grow. When these trees are replanted, this process happens relatively quick.

Canada is known for responsibly using its vast forests for building materials and for pulp and paper operations. Atlantic Canadian provinces have strict oversight over the industry, with various restrictions on the areas, type and ages of trees you can cut, and requirements to regrow cut forests to ensure woodlots are sustainable.

Products from a typical log in a modern sawmill

Source: Wood Pellet Association of Canada, Canada’s Wood Pellets: Responsible, Renewable Clean Energy

How is forest biomass used as energy?

Biomass-generated electricity in Atlantic Canada is used in industrial operations such as in co-generation facilities where heat and electricity are produced and then reused during the manufacturing process. These types of facilities often have arrangements with the provincial utility to send excess electricity to the grid and some utilities also operate their own biomass generation facility. Woodchips without co-generation can be relatively inefficient.

Prince Edward Island leads Atlantic Canada in the number community-based biomass heating applications. There are 31 plants currently serving 49 institutional and commercial buildings in rural communities across PEI, with a total serving output of 12.4 MW.

Wood pellets a very efficient source of energy, often used for heating homes in the region. These pellets are made of ground and compressed wood fiber, usually from sawmill waste. This can be a cost-effective clean alternative for homes currently heating with oil.

Emera’s Brooklyn Power biomass-fuelled steam turbine power plant

Source: Emera Energy Assets

What is the future for forest biomass in Atlantic Canada?

As Atlantic Canada moves towards a net-zero economy, biomass co-generation may offer an increasingly affordable alternative to help reduce industry emissions across the region. Furthermore, wood pellets can play an important role as a primary or backup clean energy source for homes as the use of heating oil continues to decline.

It is reasonable to expect the use of forest biomass to remain at least stable, if not grow, at the utility level to generate clean electricity in the region as it can be used on demand.

While biomass currently plays a minor role in Atlantic Canada’s energy generation relative to petroleum products or hydroelectricity, biomass is an important economic driver in some parts of the region. For example, roughly 90% of the wood pellets produced today in New Brunswick are exported to Europe, where energy costs are higher and alternatives to fossil fuels are limited. Furthermore, renewable diesel and other clean fuels, which can use biomass feedstock, may see a growing role in Atlantic Canada’s economic and energy future.


Full disclosure: The Atlantica Centre for Energy represents many of the largest energy producers and consumers in Atlantic Canada, including renewable energy. However, the Centre’s members also represent governments, research groups and academia. The Centre examines all types of energy to help decarbonize while growing economies across the region.