Bio-Innovations Fueling Alberta’s Energy, Economic Future
Posted May 14th, 2012 in Green Business
Mayor Moe Hamdon: Photo by Michael McCullough.
By Elona Malterre
DRAYTON VALLEY – Mayor Moe Hamdon, wearing only a dark suit with an open-necked shirt despite the pouring rain, stepped onto the tour bus.
He wasn't wearing a rain coat, and he didn’t mince words: “There are two drivers for economic development – inspiration and desperation. Drayton Valley was driven by desperation.”
From the Bio-Mile in Drayton Valley, to Edmonton’s Waste Management Centre coupled with Enerkem’s biofuels plant, to a new biomass district heating plant in Sherwood Park, bio-innovation is taking root in north-central Alberta.
About 50 delegates from the Canadian BioEnergy Association’s conference, held in Edmonton at the end of April 2012, took a pre-conference tour that highlighted some of the region’s new initiatives in bioenergy and bio-economy.
In Drayton Valley, Mayor Hamdon showed off the Bio-Mile (http://www.draytonvalley.ca/bio-mile/), about one square mile (2.6 square kilometres) of industrial park. It is designed to provide a home to companies, organizations and research partnerships focused on creating new products from the residues or biomass generated by the area’s forestry and agriculture industries.
Drayton Valley, population of approximately 7,000 and about 140 kilometres southwest of Edmonton, was faced with the loss of 150 jobs when Weyerhaeuser shut down its oriented strand board (OSB) facility in 2008, Hamdon said.
“It’s a great little town,” he said, pointing out an oil pump jack in the middle of town.
Despite the strong oil and gas industry presence, people decided it was time to look at diversification.
The initial feeling of desperation evolved into anticipation, Hamdon said. “As we moved along and looked at the benefits of integrated bio-industrial, there was much more to it,” including synergies with the oil and gas industry.
Instead of the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) syndrome, Drayton Valley is cultivating an “in my back yard attitude."
Excitement grew when CLIB2021 (Cluster for Industrial Biotechnology – http://www.clib2021.de/en), a collaboration of several German chemical companies, government and academia, established its North American head office in Drayton Valley.
CLIB2021 is working with the University of Alberta to determine which products are best suited for production in the Bio-Mile.
The mantra for Bio-Mile is simple, Hamdon said. “One company’s waste will be another company’s feedstock.” The strategic alliance of companies working in synergy has a goal of zero waste.
Currently, the Bio-Mile is home to the Weyerhaeuser sawmill and the Valley Power co-generation plant, among other industries.
Valley Power, which uses between 420 and 450 tonnes of biomass per day to generate power, gets 95 per cent of its fuel in the form of wood waste from Weyerhaeuser.
Valley Power sells between 9.5 and 10.5 megawatts (MW) of power which classifies the company as a small power generator. Nonetheless, it can provide enough electricity for 10,000 homes.
Otoka Energy Inc. (http://otoka.com/), a Minneapolis-based company, is planning to build a new $100-million waste-to-energy plant in the Bio-Mile.
The first phase of the plan is to make 25 MW of power, the second phase is to make syngas, and the third is to make pharmaceuticals. The second and third phases are estimated to cost an additional $140 million.
In October 2009, the Alberta government announced it would provide a $20 million grant, from Alberta’s share of the Canada ecoTrust for Clean Air and Climate Change, to Otoka Energy for its plant. The project also received $5 million in July 2009 through Alberta’s Biorefining Commercialization and Market Development Program, which is administered by Alberta Energy.
Otoka’s plan will convert 380,000 tonnes of wood waste into electricity each year. By using a renewable source to produce energy, the project will reduce Alberta’s greenhouse gases by about 400,000 tonnes per year.
Edmonton-based Tekle Technical Services (TTS – http://www.ttsfpl.net/), which is focused on designing sustainable bio-fibre-based building products, also has a branch plant in Drayton Valley.
The company is building a 30,000-square-foot facility in the Bio-Mile that will manufacture erosion control mats, home insulation and a product used as a fiberglass replacement in automobiles, according to the Alberta Biomaterials Development Centre (http://www.albertabiomaterials.com/).
Tamrat Tekle, president of TTS, spoke passionately about the advantages of the company’s off-grid, net-zero energy model home adjacent to the facility.
The 1,200-square-foot home, complete with skylight, costs about $300,000 to build which includes all electrical outlets, he said. The home can be assembled from contract to completion in about six weeks.
The home is built from TTS’s patented R-Therm structural insulated panels, a rigid polyurethane foam insulation core fused between two outer structural skins of oriented strand board, plywood or fibre-cement board and drywall. The panels make an extremely strong construction material that can be used for structural components such as walls, roofs and floors, Tekle explained.
Tekle showed the tour group various products, including insulation, serving trays and concrete all made from hemp. Hemp insulation has the same insulating factor as fiberglass, is cost-competitive and is resistant to mold, he noted.
For example, a bridge in France was built of “isochanvre,” a rediscovered French building material made from hemp hurds (cellulose) mixed with lime.
The product petrifies (turns to stone) and lasts for many centuries. Archeologists have found a bridge from the Merovingian period (500-751 A.D.) in southern France built with this material.
Tour participants noted that hemp products are being used in car interiors manufactured by BMW and other auto makers. Tekle referred to a truck, parked outside the company’s model home,with a hemp-based canopy which he said was lighter and more durable than canopies from traditional fibres.
Mayor Hamdon hosted lunch for the tour group at the Drayton Valley town centre, itself a model concept with a school next to a curling arena, a municipal library and a conference venue.
As tour delegates enjoyed superb shepherd’s pie catered locally, Hamdon proudly told the group that Drayton Valley won the 2012 Sustainable Communities Award, in the “Community Sustainability Plan” category, from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.
“Sustainability guides our bylaws,” said Hamdon, who noted that the town’s treated wastewater is used for oil field applications.
Drayton Valley serves a trading population of more than 30,000 residents with an average age of about 30 to 31 years.
The town’s plans to diversify its traditional industries had critics, the mayor acknowledged. So town leaders recruited the “most vocal opposition” for its diversification committee, empowering them to help make decisions.
“Drayton Valley is showing the world the way to the future,” Hamdon said.
EDMONTON – At the City of Edmonton’s Waste Management Centre of Excellence (http://www.ewmce.com/), tour participants learned about a project to turn municipal waste into biofuels.
“From the biofuels facility, we hope to produce about 36 million litres of ethanol which will go to the market place,” Jim Schubert, general supervisor for conversion technologies for the City of Edmonton, told the group.
Montreal-based Enerkem Inc., operating under Enerkem Alberta Biofuels, is building a full-scale, $80-million commercial plant at the Edmonton Waste Management Centre in northeast Edmonton that will turn municipal solid waste into cellulosic ethanol.
The facility, expected to be operational in early 2013, is designed to use 100,000 tonnes of municipal waste per year, to produce 36 million to 38 million litres annually of ethanol.
The plant is expected to be the world’s first major collaboration between a metropolitan centre and a waste-to-biofuels producer to turn municipal waste into methanol and ethanol. (See http://envirolinenews.ca/20120409/next-generation-biofuels-must on EnviroLine’s website).
Tour co-host David Lynch, general manager, R&D for Enerkem, said the company became involved in Edmonton’s waste management solutions because the city’s goals were to:
• increase its landfill diversion rate for residential waste to 90 per cent from the current 60 per cent, without going to traditional mass-burn combustion systems; and
• establish a responsible and sustainable position with regard to biofuels, waste and the environment.
Lynch guided the group into a high open building, where workers assembled pipes running to a tank approximately two storeys high.
In this facility, the company will be able to test forest and agricultural residues to determine the most efficient way of processing these potential feedstocks, and also “get an idea of the economics . . .,” he said.
The facility was being commissioned and would be operational in about a week, Lynch added. “This facility will operate at about 300 kilograms (of residues) per hour which is a pretty substantial scale.”
Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel recently returned from China where he promoted the city’s integrated waste management system.
The Edmonton Waste Management Centre offers “one-stop shopping for waste,” Schubert said.
The facility, which includes North America’s biggest composter, tracks about 50 types of waste streams – with everything weighed as it comes in and also considered for innovative waste-handling solutions.
The centre began in the early 2000s when the citizens of Edmonton decided they didn’t want any new landfills built, Schubert said.
The centre’s Materials Recovery Facility, which processes about 55,000 tonnes per year of mixed materials, separates the refuse from recyclables and other “residuals,” he said. “So basically out of 50,000 tonnes going in, about 10 per cent goes out as residuals and that’s mainly mixed paper (and) plastics.”
When officials looked at those residuals, they didn’t have much further value as recyclable materials, “but (they) had a lot of thermal value,” Schubert said. “And that’s when we started looking at another project to increase our (landfill) diversion rate.”
The city is currently diverting about 60 per cent of its waste from the existing Clover Bar Landfill, which reached capacity after 34 years and stopped taking garbage in August 2009.
Until Enerkem’s biofuels production facility becomes operational, any waste that can’t be diverted is taken to landfills in west Edmonton or to Ryley, about 85 kilometres southeast of Edmonton.
At the Edmonton Waste Management Centre, which handles about 280,000 tonnes of waste per year, about 55,000 tonnes goes directly to the Materials Recovery Facility to recover recyclables, Schubert said.
About 220,000 tonnes goes to the Integrated Processing and Transfer Facility; about 85,000 tonnes of that will go to Enerkem’s new biofuels facility.
The remaining 135,000 tonnes will go to the Composting Facility, which produces about 55,000 to 60,000 tonnes of compost per year.
About 12,000 school children visit the Edmonton Waste Management Centre each year, because waste management is part of the Grade Four curriculum, Schubert told the tour group.
“I’ve always considered myself like a ‘closet’ environmentalist,” he said. “And this is an environmental project.”
SHERWOOD PARK – In this urban hamlet adjacent to Edmonton, Harry Welling, ex-lawyer and ex-rock star, has turned his multi-talented passions to recycling agricultural waste.
“There is no second system like this in Canada,” Welling said as he led a tour of the Community Energy Centre in Sherwood Park’s Centre in the Park, a sustainable, multi-use district that combines municipal services, local government, residences, retail services and inviting public spaces.
“This is my baby and I love this,” Welling said as he showed off a large brown biomass container that resembled a commercial waste disposal unit.
Welling is the managing director of Kalwa Biogenics Inc. (http://kalwabiogenics.com/), which plans to utilize the biomass for the community district heating system.
The heart of the biomass unit is a combustor, a custom-designed unit made in Germany. It can electronically sense the composition and moisture content of the fuel being provided, and automatically adjust to optimize combustion.
Most off-the-shelf combustors are built to use wood chips with a maximum moisture content of 40 per cent, although the ‘comfort zone’ is closer to 30 per cent, Welling explained.
His custom combustor is manufactured by Lambion Energy Solutions (http://www.lambion.de/), which has been in operation for over 100 years.
Sherwood Park’s Community Energy Centre is a nine-megawatt facility that currently uses natural gas to heat hot water which is then piped through six municipal buildings (including a pool and an arena) and three private condominiums.
Graphic of Sherwood Park's Community Energy Centre
The hot water system is perfectly suited to the busy daytime use of the municipal buildings and the high nighttime use of the condos, Welling said.
The biomass component of the energy centre will replace the natural gas fuel and provide base load power of about six megawatts in winter, he said.
The control room for the 1.6-kilometre network of 20-centimetre pipe glows with red and blue lights – red for hot water pipes, blue for cold. The room also holds several agricultural residue samples in the form of pellets of various sizes and composition.
Fuel for the biomass system can be either various-sized pellets or put through as much smaller ‘fines.’ Testing continues, with Alberta Agriculture providing various sizes and forms of fuel.
The biomass system is designed to demonstrate both agricultural and wood residues, Welling noted.
Some of the wood chips measure about six to 12 square centimetres. All are processed near the source of the fuel, away from the facility, although fuel containers are located right outside the combustor unit.
“They’re not silos as you often see in biomass energy systems. We didn’t go with bunkers either,” Welling said, pointing to some houses behind trees lining the property. “The handling of biomass on this site at any time of day or night would simply be a . . . “very, very noisy process.”
The fuel containers, also made in Germany, are of a standard size that can be transported with BFI-type trucks, with empty containers simply replaced with full ones.
Sherwood Park’s Community Energy Centre biomass system is scheduled to be commissioned in June 2012 – another indication that Alberta bio-innovation is fueling the future. EnviroLine