October 16, 2012
By Andrea Kent
The results of agricultural innovation are everywhere – on the kitchen table, in manufacturing, in cosmetics and pharmaceuticals, and even our gas tanks.
The results of agricultural innovation are everywhere – on the kitchen table, in manufacturing, in cosmetics and pharmaceuticals, and even our gas tanks. And while Canadians have become increasingly familiar with clean burning, renewable fuels like ethanol and bio-diesel, new technologies are emerging that are expanding our crop options as well as our fuel choices.
In Canada, our advanced biofuels industry is developing both processes and equipment technologies that can efficiently deliver cellulosic ethanol and other ‘green’ chemicals from a wide range of agricultural residues and energy crops – including feedstock that would otherwise be disposed of as waste materials. It’s an industry capable of growing exciting new technology, using energy crops that can be grown on marginal lands.
One such example is GreenField Ethanol’s Cellulosic Ethanol Program, which has been operating in Chatham, Ontario since 2007. GreenField is finishing work on a pre-treatment technology that recovers the highest and purest amount of the available sugars from a variety of homegrown biomass feedstocks including agricultural residues such as corncobs and corn stover as well as a variety of purpose-grown energy crops such as miscanthus and switchgrass. The core of the process is GreenField’s Modified Twin-Screw Extruder technology, able to produce 20 litres more ethanol per tonne of biomass compared to other cellulosic ethanol technologies. At the core of the outcome are huge economic benefits for Ontario.
GreenField has an accelerated commercialization plan that seeks to fully validate its Modified Twin-Screw Extruder on a continuous basis by the end of this year. In 2013, pre-commercial validation and design engineering will be scaled-up so that construction of a new commercial plant can begin in 2014.
However, technology is but one key to successful commercialization. Equally important is developing a sustainable biomass supply chain – the full infrastructure from farm to plant gate – to support a commercial scale operation such as this. A viable supply chain will offer a ‘win-win’ result for Ontario farmers, who will have the potential to generate additional revenues from both agricultural residues and energy crops.
To better understand the agricultural requirements and potential, GreenField and Ontario farmers are working together to develop techniques to harvest cobs and stover and to grow purpose-grown energy crops – much of which can be grown on the sandy soils of the Tobacco Lands.
In addition to offering a huge opportunity for incremental farm income, these efforts will also improve soil conservation and regeneration and farming practices. And, in addition to these significant benefits for area farmers, it also creates new high tech jobs in the province and paves the way forward for the export of our home-based technologies around the world.
Projects such as this offer further proof that there are tremendous opportunities to capitalize on Canada’s resource development potential for renewable fuels; however we also have intense competition from other technologically advanced countries and foreign markets. This is why government mandates and initiatives that encourage private sector investment, like SDTC’s NextGen Bio-fuels Fund and Ontario’s Innovation Demonstration Fund, are critical to building sustainable development capability in Canada.
Governments should be encouraged to continue to take needed steps that lower the risk for capital investors and build on the past success of operating incentives to stimulate the creation of biofuels plants for next-generation ethanol producers – both of which have been proven to grow the Canadian jobs market and can return significant additional tax benefits.
We might not know yet the full scope of what “new fuel” will and could be but we do know that collaborating with government and fostering private sector investment is the best way to find it. As we have seen in Chatham, energy may very well be growing in our backyards.
Andrea Kent is the Director of Communications for the Renewable Fuels Association (CRFA). The CFRA is a non-profit organization with a mission to promote the use of renewable fuels for transportation through consumer awareness and government liaison activities.
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