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Home » BioRefineries, Business News/Analysis, Canada, Feedstocks, Field Crops, Forestry/Wood, Funding/Financing/Investing, Not Agriculture, Opinions, Policy, Sustainability

Celebrating Canada’s 150th: A Short History of the Biofuel Industry in Canada

Submitted by on July 5, 2017 – 8:12 pmNo Comment

By Gerald Kutney (Sixth Element Sustainable Management/Lee Enterprises Consulting/Biofuels Digest)  The 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation arrived on July 1st of this year — it is a time to reflect upon the country’s achievements; this article covers the evolution of the Canadian biofuel industry – including gaseous, liquid and solid biofuels, and biomass power – from 1867 to 2017.

The foundations of the biofuel industry in Canada are found in the nation’s forest resources.

And by the end of the century, Canada was more than hewers of wood, as a new value-added forest products industry based on biofuels was emerging, which started with biomethanol.

The first biofuels industry in Canada was based on the slow pyrolysis of hardwood.[4] An industrial-scale “destructive distillation” facility to manufacture methanol (“wood alcohol”) and charcoal[5] was opened by Edward Wilkes Rathburn (1842-1903) in Deseronto, Ontario, in 1887. A decade later, Arthur Peuchen[6] created a forestry-based chemical conglomerate, Standard Chemical Company Limited, whose primary products were methanol, acetate of lime, and charcoal. By 1918, sales of Standard Chemical had reached $7.6 million, and they operated an integrated biorefinery network across Ontario and Quebec:[7]

Biomethanol processes have recently started up again, but the technology is no longer “destructive distillation” but gasification ….

A biomass gasification facility was open by Enerkem in Westbury, Quebec, in 2009, and five years later, a full-scale biomass waste-to-energy facility opened in Edmonton, Alberta.[15]

As markets emerged for fuel alcohol, corn and other grains became major feedstocks. The first fuel-alcohol[17] company in Canada was Mohawk Oil (now Husky) in Minnedosa, Manitoba (methanol/ethanol), in 1980. During the 1980’s, the largest industrial ethanol facility had been Commercial Alcohols in Varennes, Quebec (70 million liters per year; closed 1991). A new company, also called Commercial Alcohols, opened a facility in Tiverton, ON, in 1989; Greenfield Global, as they are now called, is the largest ethanol producer in Canada (Table 3).[18]

A less common feedstock for ethanol production has been wood.

On May 23, 1980, a Parliamentary Task Force on Alternative Energy and Oil Substitution had been formed. Their report in a section entitled Biomass Energy stressed the potential of cellulosic ethanol:[21]

In 1986, a paper by Energy, Mines and Resources Canada and the Ontario Ministry of Energy presented a brief overview of the leading developers of cellulosic ethanol technology in Canada.[23]The unfortunate timing of the paper in 1986 coincided with oil being plentiful again, and public interest in such technologies waned. A noted venture that forged ahead was Iotech,[24] which had been created in 1974 by Patrick Foody. The company began with research into steam-explosion technology, but later switched to enzymatic processes, and the name was changed to Iogen in 1986. Bioethanol from enzymatic treatment became the focal point of the business in 1997, and Iogen became a world leader in cellulosic ethanol development. In 2012, Iogen produced over two million liters of cellulosic ethanol in Ottawa, and two years later, a commercial facility using their technology treating bagasse was built at the Raizen facility in Brazil.[25]

A new generation of cellulosic ethanol technologies are currently under development, and fermentation ethanol remains an active sector in Canada. Ethanol production in Canada had reached 1.65 billion liters by 2016.[26]

Biodiesel production did not begin in Canada until 2005; the first plant being located outside of Montreal. There are nine plants operating today

Canada was a pioneer in fast pyrolysis technology. Research in this country was pioneered at universities in the late ‘70’s and early ‘80’s: the University of Western Ontario, the University of Waterloo, and the Université Laval. This research led to the opening of some of the earliest industrial-scale fast pyrolysis facilities in the world, including Dynamotive, Encon, Ensyn and Pyrovac.[36] Only Ensyn now has a facility operating in Canada

The biofuels innovation of the early 1980’s came to an abrupt halt in the second half of the decade when oil prices had normalized. Public interest and the market-pull for these technologies disappeared as quickly as they had arisen. Many of the early technology developers failed in the aftermath. A few exceptional ventures survived – including Ensyn, Iogen and Enerkem – and are leading the third period of biofuels innovation in Canada, which started near the beginning of the millennium, being driven by the looming threat of climate change from fossil fuels. Today, there are over two hundred ventures in Canada involved in biofuel technology development and production.[50]  READ MORE

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