In the ever changing world of bio-fuel technology there are
always twists to the story line. Soaring energy prices are thinning
profit margins in the transport sector and increasing operational
costs in many manufacturing industries. The shift in research and
development has been to turning organic waste into bio-fuel,
helping industry with a cost-effective and environmentally
sustainable energy source to complement traditional fuel. Recently
the plug has been pulled on at least one major bio-fuel project,
while another project employing different, albeit similar,
technology has been given the green light.
Shell-Iogen plant cancellation raises doubts about new
Ottawa-based Iogen Corp. and Royal Dutch Shell PLC have killed a
plan to build a cellulosic ethanol plant in southern Manitoba which
would produce motor fuel from corn stalks. This is the second time
within a week that Canadian companies have backed away from major
investments in GHG emission-reduction technologies. Last week,
TransAlta Corp. announced that it will not to proceed with a
$1.4-billion project to capture carbon dioxide from an Alberta
coal-fired power plant and sequester the gas underground.
The Globe and Mail reports that Shell-Iogen plant
cancellation raises new doubts about a technology that governments
have praised as being ready to make a major contribution to North
America's fuel consumption. Cellulosic ethanol has been
publicized as the future of bio-fuels, allowing companies to shift
from a reliance on food crops like corn and wheat to agricultural,
forestry and municipal waste. The current challenge with this
technology is the difficulty in efficiently breaking down the
cellulose into sugars needed to make ethanol, and to handle the
vast amount of feedstock required for a commercial plant.
Innovation Turning Wood Waste into Bio-fuel for
Montreal-based pulp and paper company Domtar is partnering with
Battelle, an independent research and development specialist in
Columbus, Ohio, to test a new technology that rapidly converts wood
waste into crude bio-oil and gas. This new public-private
partnership is set to drive revenue for the forest products
industry in Northern Ontario.
The technology being employed in this project is known as fast
pyrolysis, which applies heat without the use of oxygen to convert
the biomass, in this case rejected wood chips, into bio-fuel. While
pyrolysis is not an entirely new process, Battelle has changed the
playing field significantly by designing smaller reactors that
chemically and molecularly modify the oil produced to generate
greater market value.
The project is aimed at capitalizing on the economic advantages
of collocating smaller systems with nearby biomass sources.
"Because it is small, it can easily be deployed in combination
with other activities, so you don't have to drag materials
great distances for processing" explains Charles Lucius, vice
president of Energy, Environment and Material Sciences at Battelle.
The advantage of this technology is that it is not an overly
capital intensive process and it is more energy efficient than more
traditional bio-fuel technologies. This technology could also be
distributed across a variety of operations and industries.
For the climate-related technologies to be commercial viable,
governments have to introduce regulations or levies that put a
price on carbon dioxide emissions. Canada has done little to
provide such a market incentive, and even major business groups
have called for a more robust policy to put a price on carbon
dioxide emissions. Despite all of this, industry spokesman Scott Thurlow said that it is too early to
write off next-generation bio-fuels as a viable part of
Canada's clean-energy mix. In the face of all these challenges,
bio-fuel continues to take strides in contributing to the energy
market in a positive way.
Lee Axford, Student at Law
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