Manitoba college heats campus with cattails

Using cattails to provide heat makes wetlands more economically viable and therefore more likely to be retained

Andy Martin (l) of Providence College discusses cattail biomass with Dimple Roy (c) and Richard Grosshans (r) of the International Institute for Sustainable Development.

A local college says biomass pellets that include cattails harvested from wetlands in the province have heated their campus through the worst of the winter.

Providence University Col­lege in Otterburn has been burning biomass since 2011 and in January of this year it used the first of the pellets made from a combination of wood and cattails, in partnership with the International Institute for Sustainable Develop­ment (IISD).

Richard Grosshans, a senior research scientist with IISD, said the move proves the pellets are a viable heating alternative, something that is significant to those who want to preserve wetlands for their many environmental services.

“We always believed that one way to keep wetlands on the landscape would be to prove their economic values alongside the environmental values that they provide to society,” Grosshans said. “Through our partnership with Providence University College, we have proven that the system can work in the depths of a Manitoba winter with a product supply that can match demand.”

IISD’s innovative approach harvests cattails and other plants from marginal agricultural land, water retention sites, and drainage ditches to remove nutrients and contaminants absorbed by the plants, and then uses plant biomass to produce low carbon energy to replace fossil fuels. With the elimination on the use of coal for space heating in Manitoba, there is an accelerating strong demand for quality processed biomass fuel. Manitoba’s Hut­terite communities are leading this charge.

“With coal no longer an option, several colonies are producing compressed biomass — including cattails — as fuel for their own heating demands,” said Grosshans.

The trial is part of Provi­dence’s ongoing commitment to using environmentally friendly biomass, something it’s been doing since 2011, according to college spokesperson Jarrad Peters, who said the first cattail pellets were used in January.

“They burned exceptionally, and we were extremely pleased with the product,” said Peters.

Grosshans said these type of approaches can be applied globally, in places with far greater issues than North America.

“Innovative solutions devel­oped here in Manitoba to collectively deal with our flooding, nutrient, and carbon reduction issues that also create economic growth and jobs will help us and the global community,” he said.

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