Different shades of green seen in ethanol
• Promoters disagree
on the costs and benefits
of cellulose versus
grain-based processing techniques.
Western Producer, September 25, 2003, page 12
There are two ways to make ethanol out of agricultural crops.
Grain-based ethanol facilities like the one Broe Companies Inc. plans
to build in Belle Plaine, Sask., use corn and cereal grains to produce
the alternative fuel.
Cellulose-based plants such as logen Corp.'s demonstration facility
in Ottawa and the new plant proposed by the Nipawin Ethanol Co-operative
use the stalks, stems and leaves of plants to make ethanol.
Ottawa recently announced a $100 million program for the construction
of new ethanol plants over the next three years. Both types of facilities
will be able to apply for that money.
But later in that same
announcement the federal government said that over the coming months
it will work with the provinces to examine
range of programs to develop a commercial “cellulose-based
The announcement indicated the federal government is keen on the cellulose-based
approach to ethanol production for one reason.
“There is about
twice the benefit in terms of greenhouse gas reduction when you
produce it from cellulose as compared to either
using cereal grain or corn:? said Bill Cruickshank, manager of
the biochemical conversion program at Natural Resources Canada.
Grain-based ethanol plants run on fossil fuels like natural gas. Cellulose-based
operations derive energy from the plant material itself. One of the
major components in cereal straw is lignin. Lignin can?t be converted
into ethanol, but it acts as an energy source for the whole process.
“That?s where the
real greenhouse gas benefit comes from:? said Cruickshank.
Cellulose-based plants are also more productive, said Bill Russell,
project manager fortheNipawin Ethanol Coop. His plant will use a gasification
process to produce 550 litres of ethanol per tonne of biomass compared
to the 320 L that can be squeezed out of a tonne of wheat.
Given the right blend of biomass ingredients there can be as little
as two percent residue left over after the cellulose is converted into
synthetic gas, which in turn is converted into ethanol throughahighheat,
“The only residue
we have is a mineral ash:? said Russell.
A briefing memo on the Nipawin project said it is expected to be less
capital intensive, recover a higher volume of ethanol and more profit
than grain-based systems.
That contradicts the findings
of a 2001 report on ethanol prepared for Saskatchewan Economic
and Cooperative Development. It estimated
the output from a cellulose-based plant at 300 L per tonne, similar
to grain-based units. And it said a cellulose plantwouldbe”much
more capital intensive” than building a grain-based ethanol
No commercial scale cellulose-based plant has been built inNorthAmerica,
so no hard data is available to accurately compare the two techniques.
But one of the partners in the Broe project said grain-based plants
have one significant proven advantage. About one-third of the raw
material that goes into the process comes out the other end in the
form of distillers grain, said Dennis Estey, director of business
development with Saskatchewan?s Crown Investments Corp.
That high-protein feed
ingredient can help the province grow its cattle herd. “We could feed more cattle here in the long run as opposed
to sending them west to Alberta” said Este.
Cellulose-based ethanol plan still alive.
By Sean Pratt
Western Producer, September 25, 2021 page 12
Grain-based ethanol plants in limbo
Amidst the rubble of Saskatchewan?s crumbling ethanol plans, one project
continues to slog away with little fanfare.
In February 2003, a group of 100 investors from the Nipawin, Sask.,
area formed a new generation co-operative to get the ball roiling on
an ethanol plant that will rival what Broe Companies Inc. was supposed
to build in Belle Plaine this year.
The $55 million Belle Plaine project hit the news again earlier this
month when Crown Investments Corp. minister Maynard Sonntag told reporters
it was unlikely Broe would build the plant this fall. That means the
government?s promise to mandate ethanol use by April 1,2004, will likely
have to be pushed back.
It was almost a year ago when premier Lorne Calvert announced the
Broe deal at an elaborate sod turning ceremony in Belle Plaine. That?s
the last time there was any activity at the site, which was supposed
to be home to the first in a series of new ethanol plants built bythe
Denver, Colorado, company.
No construction has happened in Nipawin either, but the cellulose-based
ethanol endeavour is building momentum while the grain-based Broe project
Bill Russell is project manager for the Nipawin Ethanol Co-operative,
a proposed $35-$50 million project purposely kept out of the limelight
by its backers, a group that includes towns, rural municipalities,
First Nations bands, SaskEnergy and the Saskatchewan Research Council.
“We realize there is a lot of hype out there and media coverage
on grain-based ethanol projects that may or may not ever get off the
ground,” he said.
The Nipawin group chose to work in relative anonymity on a business
plan for an ethanol plant that will require about $6 million of local
It is different from what Broe has proposed in Belle Plaine. For one
thing, it will rely on raw ingredients like flax straw and forestry
byproducts instead of cereal grains.
The plant will be closer in design to what Iogen Corp. has talked
about building on the Prairies. Iogen?s $37 million demonstration plant
in Ottawa converts cereal grain straw into ethanol.
But Russell said there are
substantial differences between those two projects as well. He said
plants like the one logen proposes need to
source 700,000—800,000 tonnes of wheat and barley straw a year.
There is too much competition for cereal grain straw to get that volume
of material, he said.
I know one or two places on the planet where that might be consistently
sustainable but none of them are here in Saskatchewan. I think it?s
a death wish? he said.
The Nipawin plant will rely on cheaper raw ingredients that have few
alternative uses. Russell estimates 25-45 percent of the raw inputs
will come from agriculture, primarily in the form of flax straw. The
remainder will be forestry byproducts such as bark, wood shavings,
sawdust and logging slash.
Nipawin was chosen, in part, because it is located on the fringe of
farmland and forest. Within a 100-kilometre radius of the town there
are more than 70 forestry companies and one million acres of cultivated
Russell is surveying area farmers to see if they would be interested
in supplying raw material to the plant. He?s not sure what the co-op
would pay them for their bales.
Most of the biomass used in the Nipawin plant would otherwise be burnt
or used as landfill, so in addition to creating a cleaner burning fuel,
the process also reduces greenhouse gases associated with forestry
The plant will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by about 400,000 tonnes
annually, said Russell
That could be a big revenue generator for the facility if the federal
government attaches a value to those carbon credits. But the business
plan won?t be based on that premise.
“We?re looking at this from a pretty straight forward economic
development perspective. Anything we can add with carbon credits will
be gravy,” said Russell.
It will take an estimated $2 million and two to three years to develop
a business plan, complete a feedstock analysis, do lab research and
work on storage, transportation and distribution logistics. Only then
can the co-op launch a full-scale funding drive. Russell thinks that
initial capital will be in place by early 2004.
He said the Nipawin cellulose-based ethanol project should be the
first of many in Saskatchewan.
“The province could
support dozens of plants like this.”
Ethics; an essary by Darrin Qualman published by the CCPA,
a PDF File