Two Articles on the "Green" character of Ethanol Production

Different shades of green seen in ethanol

• Promoters disagree on the costs and benefits
of cellulose versus
grain-based processing techniques.

Saskatoon newsroom
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 a range of programs to develop a commercial “cellulose-based ethanol industry”

Environmental factor

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, low-oxygen process.

“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 facility.

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
Saskatoon newsroom
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 has stalled.

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 feedstock annually.

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 cropland.

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 and agriculture.

Lower emissions

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.”

Ethanol Ethics; an essary by Darrin Qualman published by the  CCPA, a PDF File