2014 AWARD-WINNING PROJECT: UNBC Bio-Energy Plant, Prince George

This project is exemplary for bringing local energy production into view and so elevating public consciousness around ownership and responsibility. An elegant building whose expression is rooted in ’place’; a fabulous example of what more communities
in Canada should be doing.

The UNBC Bio-Energy Plant is an 857 m2, three-storey facility whose primary purpose is to reduce the overall greenhouse gas emissions associated with the operation of buildings on the UNBC campus. The building consists of three distinct program spaces: a fuel storage area, a processing plant and, an operations and research area. The project sets a number of sustainable precedents, being the first  university building in British Columbia, and only the second industrial building in Canada, to achieve LEED Platinum certification.

This project is a critical component in the development of the UNBC campus. The total floor space heated by the Bio-Energy Plant is 64,231 m2, which equates to 68% of the total square footage of the buildings on campus and 71% of the total campus heat demand.
This is made possible through the use of a sustainable fuel supply with a high energy output. In addition to producing and distributing energy for use in nearby buildings, the Bio-Energy Plant also includes operational and research components. The latter accommodates faculty, students and others whose work is directed toward a greater understanding and ongoing refinement of the biomass gasification process.

The fuel storage and processing areas are the largest spaces in the building. Locating these components to the west of the building enabled the design team to better respond to the site topography and facilitate easier delivery of the biomass fuel. Burying these large volumes 3.4 metres into the earth also helped reduce the apparent scale of the building. The operation and research component of the facility is expressed as a cantilevered “box” clad in western red cedar siding.

The project team adopted a comprehensive approach to the design of the interior, specifying low-emitting finishes throughout the building. UNBC has taken an extra step to procure GreenGuard™ and Indoor Advantage-certified systems furniture to further enhance the project indoor air quality. Using green cleaning products and implementing green housekeeping practices will also ensure that the building occupants’ exposure to potentially hazardous chemicals will be minimized during building operation and maintenance.

An integrated,  multidisciplinary design approach has provided the building users with individually controlled access to fresh air, daylight and views in all regularly occupied spaces. The installation of low-flow fixtures and a dual-flush water closet reduce potable water consumption, and the use of hardy, climate-appropriate plants eliminated the need for an irrigation system. In addition, the project is also connected to the UNBC stormwater management system.

As Prince George is located in a cold climate, reducing heating loads was a priority. On the demand side, the heating loads were significantly reduced by specifying a high performance envelope. On the supply side, the building is primarily heated using a heat exchanger on the return water of the biomass boiler. [Note that the biomass fuel of is sawmill residue used in the plant meets the definition of renewable.]

Wood was chosen as the primary structural material for its inherently sustainable properties. The structure of the building is comprised of exposed glulam beams and columns supporting an exposed wood roof. The interior walls of the fuel storage and processing plant are clad with locally-manufactured GIS Douglas fir plywood, giving these spaces a  much warmer appearance than would typically be the case for an industrial building.

Regionally-sourced and reclaimed materials were specified wherever possible, and metal, concrete, insulation and gyproc with post- and pre-waste content were used. In a region that lacks the recycling infrastructure typically found in larger urban areas, the project team still managed to divert 55% of construction waste from landfill.

As an academic institution committed to sustainable principles, UNBC is using the Bio-Energy Plant as a broad educational tool for a wide range of audiences. In addition, the prominent location and transparent nature of the facility offers a constant reminder to the university community of how and where the energy it uses is being generated. Making infrastructure visible in this way helps foster a greater sense of responsibility regarding the source and potential environmental impacts of the basic services we rely on.


    • Owner/Developer University of Northern British Columbia
    • Architect Hughes Condon Marler Architects
    • General Contractor IDL Projects Inc.
    • Landscape Architect Jay Lazzarin Landscape Architect
    • Civil Engineer L&M Engineering
    • Electrical Engineer MMM Group Ltd.
    • Mechanical Engineer The AME Consulting Group Ltd.
    • Structural Engineer Bush Bohlman & Partners
    • Photos Hughes Condon Marler Architects

      Glulam and steel frame, concrete, spray foam insulation and curtain wall, tapered EPS insulation sidings of metal, fibre cement, and western red cedar; Nexterra Biomass Gasification System; Interface carpet tile.

      Energy intensity = 119.6MJ/m²/year [includes non-regulated ‘plug load’ consumption]
      Energy intensity reduction relative to reference building under MNECB = 35%
      Potable water consumption = 7,510 l/occupant/year
      Potable water consumption reduction relative to reference building = 31.13%
      Regional materials by value [800 Km radius] = 28.71%
      Reclaimed and recycled materials by value = 16.35%

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