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In Yellowknife and elsewhere in the NWT there is a growing shift to wood pellet fuel as an alternative to diesel oil and natural gas

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Wood pellets like these are made of sawdust that has been compressed and extruded through a narrow opening. The pellets can be used to fuel heating systems for homes or large public buildings with up to 50 per cent savings compared with diesel oil, a common energy source for heating in the North.

Pat Wellenbach/The Associated Press

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Like other forms of biomass, wood pellets are generally regarded as greener than fossil fuels because the carbon they release can – in theory – be recaptured in the form of new forest growth. This assumes sound forest management practices and efficient processing and distribution of pellets.

Arctic Energy Alliance

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Here, in Yellowknife, wood pellets are transported by truck and are then blown directly into a furnace storage area using a hose.

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Because of low energy density, wood pellets require more storage space than diesel. A shed like this can hold a few cubic metres of pellets which, depending on the system, may be sufficient to heat a northern home for an entire winter season.

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Wood pellets can be fed automatically into a boiler system such as this one. The pellets do not burn but instead release combustible gases in the low-oxygen, high-temperature environment within the boiler. The gases burn with higher efficiency and fewer pollutants than solid wood. Often, the boiler is used to heat water, which is then circulated to where it’s needed to heat the building. But wood pellet boilers can also be used with forced-air heating systems.

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Pellets can also be used to fuel wood stoves and other appliances. Read more in this series that looks at infrastructure projects designed to create economic opportunities in the North at the link below: Wood pellets help the North break its diesel habit.

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