A B.C. First Nation wants to use wood waste from clear-cut logging to support aboriginal financial growth.

The initiative attempts to solve several issues — the reliance of northern communities on fossil fuels; providing job opportunities for aboriginal residents; and disposing of hundreds of thousands of tonnes of residual wood left behind by forestry companies.

The idea, according to Bernard Patrick, housing and infrastructure director for the Lake Babine Nation, was to figure out whether collecting residual wood, turning the material into energy, and selling it, would work on a large scale.

A test was conducted in the little community of Fort Babine — which has a population of little more than 100 residents. Partnering with FPInnovations, a forestry technology non-profit, the community purchased and trained its members in late 2014 on a commercial scale firewood cutter, all supplied by forestry waste wood collected from post-logging areas. The idea was a hit.

Now, Patrick’s got his eye on a bigger vision — a full biomass facility, this time located much closer to Burns Lake, in the larger aboriginal community of Woyenne.

“There is, from my understanding, camps in the areas — there’s a new camp opening up, a 1,000 man workcamp — for a pipeline. There’s a Department of Fisheries and Oceans, they’re nearby. Those kinds of camps we are looking at then, to be our source of revenue,” he said.

“We are next door to the municipality … we have the hospital, we have a school, we have two nursing homes, we have a medical clinic — all nearby — that we can sell our products to.”

The potential revenue could be huge. The average heating cost of a single building in Lake Babine Nation is about two to three cords of wood per month. A cord is a measurement of 4x4x8 feet of firewood — 128 cubic feet in total.

“We have the backing of our political body and chief and council … we’re getting funds from different funding agencies to buy the capital part of this building itself,” Patrick said, adding the total capital cost of the project could approach $6 million.

According to Marian Marinescu, senior researcher with FPInnovations, Woyenne would need about 3,000 ODt per year for its heating plant.

To illustrate the amount of residual wood supply that could be available, a study done for a larger-scale plant for another project, at Anahim Lake, found that at industry-preferred delivered costs of $50 per tonne, there could be potentially 86,000 tonnes of wood available.

The waste wood is generated from essentially anything the forestry companies don’t want — or that aren’t in demand all the time, like pulp logs — and are often torched by the companies.