Intellectual sparks and business chemistry were crackling around the Prince George Civic Centre this week during the International Bioenergy Conference.
There were 58 exhibitors from around the world with more than a dozen countries directly represented at the event.
"When I first joined [the conference organization team] in 2006 we had 12 exhibitors, that's how much it has grown," said spokesman Cam McAlpine. "We had some difficult times the last two conferences, when the [global economic downturn] was in effect but we had a very successful event this year, it put us back on good foundations for future conferences."
There were also more than 400 delegates who came to see the exhibits and hear the guest speakers on the agenda.
"The value for me in this conference is in making the contacts. Also the information, but that is not the main thing, it is developing the relationships within the industry," said Roland Rossi, Canada's trade commissioner in Austria. He is typically based at the Canadian embassy in Vienna but this was a crucial industrial issue between the two countries, he said.
Due to rising energy costs, Austria has been pushing ahead on bioenergy. He estimated that Austria and Europe are 30 or more years ahead on bioenergy but the rest of the world is catching up fast.
Here is Prince George, UNBC has a bioenergy furnace heating their campus, and a municipal bioenergy system was switched on Wednesday to heat City Hall, the Civic Centre, Four Seasons Pool, the Coliseum and the Bob Harkins branch of the library.
In Austria, there are already 1,600 district energy systems working and more than 7,000 homes have their own bioenergy furnaces. Austria builds the furnaces, but Canada supplies the biomass (all forms of woody material) so the two nations are linked in a rich and growing industry.
"When you see all the forests rotting away out there," Rossi said, gesturing to the pine beetle devastation around Prince George, "we see real opportunity to do business with this part of the world."
General contractor Dan Reams of Watson Lake was at the conference alongside global interests like Rossi. He was also enthused about the cost-saving and money-saving opportunities bioenergy represents for his Yukon community.
"If you had a chipper and started making your own biofuel, there is a lot of possibility for Watson Lake," he said. "We wouldn't want to do pellets, for a lot of reasons pellets aren't practical for us, but the technology has come so far for burning wood chips that it is now something we could possibly use. We have a hospital and an elementary school quite close to each other, perhaps a small district energy system idea could be put to use, or even at the household level. It could be a big help to our energy challenges in the Yukon."
The phrase moving about the conference floor was that Prince George was the Saudi Arabia of bioenergy.