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Six Nations of The Grand River

Viability Evaluation of Micro Anaerobic Digestion Opportunities For First Nations Communities


Managing waste effectively and sustainably is a challenge shared by many First Nations communities throughout Ontario. Ageing, outdated, and in some cases inadequate community waste infrastructure coupled with increasing on-reserve populations and lack of funding resources can create significant disadvantages to community health, economic prosperity, and the natural environmental.

New and innovative solutions to First Nations waste management issues are needed.

Anaerobic digestion, although not a new technology, is one potential solution for organic waste.

Anaerobic digestion is the process of collecting biogas from decomposing organic materials and using this biogas as a source of energy, creating a valuable product while simultaneously transforming organic waste into a valuable feedstock.

Anaerobic digestion has been around for quite some time, but has not often been considered in First Nation communities due to unfamiliarity with the technology, lack of adequate feedstock, and difficulty making these types of systems viable for rural communities with smaller populations.

However, recent developments with micro anaerobic digestions technology may make small scale anaerobic digestion systems more viable for First Nation communities.

The purpose of this project is to assess the overall viability of micro anaerobic digestion systems for First Nation communities in Ontario. Three First Nation communities, each with unique feedstock characteristics, have participated in this project.

A community-based viability evaluation was completed for each of the participating communities. The results of these evaluations were used to identify any market opportunities for micro anaerobic digestion systems within First Nation communities in Ontario, and more broadly, Indigenous communities in Canada.

In addition, the project allowed for engagement and capacity building with regards to anaerobic digestion and micro anaerobic digestion systems to occur, enabling participants to learn more about these types of technologies and their potential applicability within First Nation communities.. 

Participating Communities:

  • Six Nations of The Grand River

  • Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation

  • Walpole Island First Nation.  

What is Anaerobic Digestion?

Anaerobic digestion is a natural process that can be used to produce energy from biodegradable feedstocks. Anaerobic digestion is a biological process similar to composting, in which micro-organisms break down organic matter, but differs in that it works in an anaerobic (oxygen-free) environment.

Anaerobic Digester

The two main products from the anaerobic digestion process are biogas and digestate. Biogas can be used to create energy, including electricity, heat, and/or an alternative vehicle fuel. Digestate is the liquid and residual fibrous material left at the end of processing and can be used as a


Benefits of Anaerobic Digestion System

The development of a micro anaerobic digestion system may provide additional, intangible benefits to a community. Potential benefits are described below.


Although anaerobic digestion is not a new process, micro anaerobic digestion systems are an innovative concept. First Nation communities may see the development of such a system as a valuable asset, demonstrating their community’s willingness to implement innovative solutions to existing problems.


Micro anaerobic digestion systems offer multiple environmental benefits, including the diversion of waste which may have otherwise gone to landfill and a potential overall reduction in GHG emissions. First Nation communities may see the value of a micro anaerobic digestion system as a was to demonstrate their commitment to the natural environment.

Energy Independence

The production of energy from a micro anaerobic digestion system may allow a community to generate energy for use within their community, reducing reliance on external suppliers. Many First Nation community may see this as a significant benefit. Please note that this only applies to systems that utilize energy within their communities (excludes energy export).

Economic Development

Under the right circumstances, a micro anaerobic digestion system may present an economic development opportunity for First Nation communities. These economic opportunities come from accepting feedstock (for a fee) to operate the system, and selling energy by-products for a profit.

Employment Opportunity

A micro anaerobic digestion system has the potential to employ a part-time staff member. First Nation communities may see this part-time employment opportunity as a potential benefit. Related: 3 Ways To Effectively Communicate Technical Information to First Nations Communitites

Community Engagement

Community Engagement Session #1

The first community engagement session was held on January 14, 2021. The purpose of the engagement session was to provide an overview of the technology and project to participating communities.

Due to restrictions with COVID 19, the first engagement session was held virtually. In total, the session was attended by 11 participants. The majority of participants were representatives

of the participating communities, however, several other participants from communities that expressed interest in the project attended as well.

At the end of the engagement session, an interactive whiteboard was used to collect information from participants. This information focused on basic questions surrounding the technology, such as:

  • Community values and planning initiatives;

  • Identification of community assets which might be able to utilize the technology; and

  • Identification of potential feedstocks available within the community that could be used to feed the system.

Community Engagement Session #2

Separate second engagement sessions were held with each of the participating communities between late February to mid-March of 2021. The purpose of these sessions was to walk through the technical criteria of the evaluation with individual communities.

Again, due to COVID 19 related restrictions, these individual sessions were held virtually.

Community Engagement Session #3

The final engagement session for the project was held on July 22nd, 2021. The purpose of this session was to provide a summary of the results of the project to participants.

This session was held virtually. Related: 5 Steps To Meaningful Indigenous Community Engagement

Evaluation Methods

In general, the purpose of the evaluation is to identify the overall viability of a micro anaerobic digestion system within a given First Nation community. The evaluation procedure can be been broken into two separate stages:

Stage 1 – Technical Evaluation: Information will be collected to determine the micro anaerobic digestion system’s overall viability within a community from a technical perspective.

Specific variables and options relating to the system will be defined and the system will be tested against multiple technical criteria to determine its overall suitability for a given community. Although costs are not considered during this stage of the evaluation, they will be identified.

Stage 2 – Financial Evaluation: The cost information collected in the previous stage will be used under several separate scenarios to determine the system’s viability from a financial perspective.

The evaluation includes consideration of different circumstances that could significantly affect financial viability. A micro anaerobic digestion system could fail the evaluation for a given community during either stage of the evaluation, and would be required to pass both in order to be considered viable. Related: What is a Contaminated Site?

Project Results

Although the benefits of micro anaerobic digestion systems cannot be denied, a significant market for the implementation of these systems within First Nation communities in Ontario does not exist at this time. Except under very specific circumstance, the systems are generally not financially viable unless significant funding can be obtained.

Further consideration to the development of micro anaerobic digestion systems within the communities that participated in this project should not be considered.

The main barrier identified is feedstock availability. It is expected that the vast majority of First Nation communities do not produce enough feedstock to sustain continuous operation of the system.

Furthermore, even though it is possible to achieve moderately reasonable returns on the investment in a micro anaerobic digestion system, this can only be done under very specific circumstances.

This, combined with the relatively unproven track record of these systems within the Canadian climate results in the conclusion that micro anaerobic digestion technologies are generally not well suited to First Nation communities within Ontario.

Despite the barriers identified and limited market, there may very well be a small number of Indigenous communities across Canada where a micro anaerobic digestion pilot project may be applicable. Development of a pilot project could be considered on a case-by-case basis.

The best candidate would be and Indigenous community that has the following attributes:

  • A large commercial and/or industrial sector that could provide adequate feedstock for a micro anaerobic digestion system, or that is expected to exceed an on-reserve population of 9,000 full-time residents within the next 5 to 10 years;

  • Has potential energy end-users with large year-round heating requirements (such as process heat), currently has or is interested in a natural gas vehicle fleet, or is in close proximity to a

  • Does not have access to a cost-effective heating source or natural gas (in Southern Ontario, focus on First Nation communities without access to natural gas or propane).

Lastly, due to the constant evolution of energy prices and the technology itself, at the very least, the applicability of micro anaerobic digestion technology should be reassessed in 5 to 10 years. During the development of the Community Energy Plan (CEP), Cambium Indigenous Professional Services developed a community specific energy vision, suggested energy related goals, assessed current and future energy use, identified potential energy opportunities, and developed a plan to implement such energy opportunities. 

Engagement with the community was also a key component of the CEP development process.  The Residential Energy Survey was a huge success. It was used to engage and collect feedback from Six Nations community members.  The outcome of the project was a comprehensive Community Energy Plan (CEP) document that provided a basis for future energy related work within the community. 

Please note that following the completion of the Community Energy Plan (CEP), CIPS assisted the Six Nations Public Works department with applications for the IESO’s Community Energy Champion (CEC) and Education and Capacity Building (ECB) programs to begin the implementation of the activities described within the Community Energy Plan.  CIPS continues to work closely with the CEC (hired under Six Nations Public Works) under separate contracts.  CIPS also assisted Six Nations of The Grand River (SNGRDC, under separate contract) with an application to the Independant Electricty System Operator's (IESO) Indigenous Energy Projects (IEP) program for their Bingo Hall solar PV net-metering project, which was successfully constructed in 2021.

Project Title: Viability Evaluation of Micro Anaerobic Digestion Opportunities for First Nation Communities

Project Budget: $35,500

Project Timing: 2019 – 2021 (delayed significantly due to COVID)

Cambium Indigenous Professional Services would like to thank The Six Nations of the Grand River, Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation and Walpole Island First Nation for allowing this project to be showcased.

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