Biomass up-and-coming fuel source in Manitoba

Manitobans looking for another environmentally friendly energy source for space and water heating may soon find they don't have to look further than their backyards.

Prairie Agricultural Machinery Institute (PAMI) is testing a mobile densification system that may make it easier for agricultural producers or communities to create a valuable fuel source out of biomass such as straw, grass or wood.

Mobile unit makes system practical

"The technology to compress material into cubes or pellets isn't new, but our system is," says Lorne Grieger, project manager, agricultural research and development with PAMI. "It is fully contained on a semi-trailer and is designed to be moved from field to field to allow the biomass to be processed where it is available."

PAMI's mobile densification system.

The mobile densification system forces biomass material through dies. Pressure heats the material and causes it to harden into usable cubes that, like coal, can be burned for fuel. The cubes can be transported in a regular auger.

Many farmers have bales in their back yard, but are unable to convert them to fuel as they don't have access to the necessary equipment. Introducing mobile densification systems to producers or co-ops would make it easier to use readily available resources for heat.

Research in progress

"This system is especially important for people in Manitoba who are adopting a new fuel source to convert from coal which is being banned due to its impact on the environment," says Grieger.

PAMI received funding for the research from Growing Forward 2's Growing Innovation – On-Farm. Growing Forward 2 is a federal-provincial-territorial initiative to advance the agricultural industry.

"From Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development's (MAFRD) perspective, we're always encouraging farmers to replace coal with biomass as it's better for the environment," says Eric Liu, business development specialist - fibre and composites with MAFRD. "This system could create a practical solution to burning more harmful materials, and also could create extra income for farmers or co-ops if they own the machine and choose to rent it out or sell the biomass cubes."

PAMI has tested multiple types of straw in the unit, including cereal crop, corn, forestry residue and even cattails. Most of the tested materials were converted successfully to usable fuel sources.

Biomass cubes created out of cattails.

"We're still testing the system, but we believe that it could be a feasible solution for producers in Manitoba for the future," says Grieger. "It is definitely something we will keep improving and exploring."

PAMI's test facility is in Portage la Prairie and trials are still taking place. To speak to Grieger about the research, email him at or call him at 204-239-5445 ext.229.

To learn more about the Manitoba research into biomass, consider attending the Annual Biomass Workshop and Tour held at the end of February or early March. The event will cover the latest research conducted in the province and the equipment needed to create biomass cubes. To get more information about the workshop as it is available, watch PAMI's website.

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