From 2006 to early 2011, researchers at the Canadian Wood Fibre Centre of the Canadian Forest Service (CFS), Natural Resources Canada, conducted R&D into establishing Short Rotation Woody Crop (e.g., willow and poplar) agroforestry plantations, augmented with treated effluent, under Alberta’s climate, soil and water conditions.

The intent of the project was to evaluate the efficiency and environmental implications of integrating waste disposal with wood fibre production, i.e., willow for biomass production or fast-growing poplar.  The sites, dubbed Sustainable Wood Energy Plantations (SWEP), were established at the towns of Whitecourt and Beaverlodge, the hamlets of Ohaton (Camrose County) and Clairmont (near Grande Prairie) and in collaboration with the City of Edmonton.  An agreement was also reached with Sturgeon County to establish a sixth site at Villeneuve. SWEP plantations test the growth and performance of willow and poplar varieties under varying conditions, including:  irrigated vs. non-irrigated, and with or without the application of nutrient-rich biosolids.

The plantations are environmentally friendly, an economical source of feedstock for local bioenergy production and make productive use of marginal lands.  Use of treated wastewater for plantation irrigation is a desirable environmental alternative to surface water discharge and reduces community wastewater processing costs.

The plantations support rural sustainable development by yielding wood fibre of

Harvesting the willow plantation at Whitecourt

Harvesting the willow plantation at Whitecourt

known attributes for forestry applications and/or use in local carbon-neutral bioenergy conversion facilities (e.g., wood-fired boilers), thereby reducing local costs and dependence on fossil fuels. To maintain the momentum of the project and link together the sites established across Alberta, CFS researchers teamed up with GPRC and the UofA to develop a proposal for financial support from the Alberta Rural Development Network.  They were awarded $75,000 to add to existing cash and in kind contributions, to establish the Alberta Rural Organic Waste to Resources Network (AROWRN).

AROWRN will serve as a means of networking the five existing (and future) sites into one robust working group to:

  • Share information and best practices related to their communities’ sites
  • Meet emerging Provincial enhanced environmental standardsrelated to wastewater treatment and disposal
  • Transfer knowledge to others interested in the waste-to-energy concept through events such as field days, a website (hosted by GPRC) and participation in planned networking and conference event


  • Link the organizations’ research team members with the communities on an  ongoing basis to:
  • Integrate the findings into teaching and learning;
  • Establish a set of testing protocols and develop a common shared baseline dataset; and
  • Develop a decision support software tool that communities can use to evaluate the economics of such installations.

Grande Prairie Regional College’s  Centre for Research & Innovation will lead the AROWRN project, linking it with their NSERC funded ‘Pollutants to Products’ research.  For further details, contact the Centre for Research & Innovation at info@thecri.ca or call 780-539-2054, or toll free 1-877-539-2808.