Bio-chem­i­cal clus­ter on a roll

The Observer (Sarnia) - - FRONT PAGE - PAUL MORDEN

Ef­forts to grow a green branch in Sar­nia-Lambton’s Chem­i­cal Val­ley are hav­ing a good year.

News this past week that Water­loo startup com­pany, Ad­vanced Chem­i­cal Tech­nolo­gies, wants to build a com­mer­cial-scale demon­stra­tion plant at Tran­sAlta’s Blue­wa­ter En­ergy Park in Sar­nia was the lat­est in a string of re­cent an­nounce­ments by “green” in­dus­tries with plans to set up shop in the com­mu­nity.

“It has been a very ex­cit­ing year,” said Sandy Mar­shall, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Bioin­dus­trial In­no­va­tion Canada, a govern­ment­funded agency based in Sar­nia that helps young sus­tain­able chem­istry and bio-based com­pa­nies move new tech­nol­ogy to the mar­ket.

It’s work­ing along with Ad­vanced Chem­i­cal Tech­nolo­gies as it at­tempts to open a plant that will use in­dus­trial car­bon diox­ide emis­sions, in ad­di­tion to nat­u­ral gas, wa­ter and elec­tric­ity, to pro­duce methanol with a sig­nif­i­cantly re­duced car­bon foot­print.

The plan is to show the tech­nol­ogy can be eco­nom­i­cal, and then build a larger com­mer­cial plant in Chem­i­cal Val­ley.

“This whole is­sue of se­ques­ter­ing car­bon diox­ide, and get­ting it into chem­i­cals is re­ally an im­por­tant con­cept in this ap­proach we’re tak­ing to try and fight cli­mate change,” Mar­shall said.

And, it fits the cur­rent gov­ern­ment agen­das.

“I’m pretty ex­cited,” Mar­shall said.

“This is some of the most in­ter­est­ing tech­nol­ogy we’ve seen in this space, and that’s why we’re work­ing with them.”

The agency is in­volved in a project with Ad­vanced Chem­i­cal Tech­nolo­gies on tech­ni­cal and eco­nomic fea­si­bil­ity stud­ies to ad­dress com­mer­cial bar­ri­ers to set­ting up the demon­stra­tion plant.

Mar­shall said the com­pany is putting to­gether “a re­ally in­ter­est­ing tech­nol­ogy pack­age,” most of which is al­ready proven.

“It’s not like they’re start­ing from noth­ing . . . but it has never been put to­gether in the way they’re try­ing to do it, so that’s what makes it new and chal­leng­ing.”

If it’s suc­cess­ful, the ef­fort will of­fer huge ben­e­fit to tra­di­tional petro­chem­i­cal in­dus­tries that pro­duce large amounts of car­bon diox­ide emis­sions, Mar­shall said.

The plen­ti­ful source of car­bon diox­ide avail­able from those Chem­i­cal Val­ley in­dus­tries is part of the rea­son the startup com­pany de­cided on Sar­nia, he said.

“The raw ma­te­ri­als are here for them to be able to pro­duce a lot of methanol,” Mar­shall said.

Methanol is a broadly used chem­i­cal used in many prod­ucts, so there are op­por­tu­ni­ties to sell it on the open mar­ket.

On top of that, the com­pany would be pro­duc­ing “green methanol” which has ben­e­fits for com­pa­nies putting to­gether “bio-based” chem­i­cal strate­gies, Mar­shall said.

That could help draw some of those com­pa­nies to Sar­ni­aLambton.

Ad­vance Chem­i­cal Tech­nolo­gies de­ci­sion to come to Sar­nia fol­lows an­nounce­ments this year by Cal­i­for­nia-based Ori­gin Ma­te­ri­als that it will build a demon­stra­tion plant at Sar­nia’s Ar­lanxeo site next year to pro­duce build­ing­block chem­i­cals for plas­tics and other prod­ucts, from bio-based ma­te­ri­als such as wood chips and card­board.

Ori­gin Ma­te­ri­als made a sec­ond an­nounce­ment that it was mov­ing a pi­lot plant to the Western Sar­ni­aLambton Re­search Park.

In June, Bri­tish Columbia-based S2B BioChem an­nounced its plan­ning to build a $20-mil­lion demon­stra­tion plant in Sar­nia to turn forestry and farm residues into a lowcalo­rie food sweet­ener, along with bio­chem­i­cal.

Sar­nia-Lambton of­fi­cials have been work­ing for years to pro­mote the idea of cre­at­ing a “hy­brid chem­i­cal clus­ter,” with bio-in­dus­tries set­ting up shop along­side tra­di­tional com­pa­nies in Chem­i­cal Val­ley.

“The first cog in the wheel was get­ting BioAm­ber to Sar­nia, and we’ve been work­ing hard since then,” Mar­shall said.

BioAm­ber makes the build­ing­block chem­i­cal bio-suc­cinic acid from corn syrup in a plant it opened in 2015 in Sar­nia.

That was fol­lowed by the news Comet Biore­fin­ing, a com­pany that orig­i­nated in Lon­don, wants to build a plant in Sar­nia to turn corn and wheat stalks into sugar for in­dus­trial uses.

“Now you’re start­ing to see things ac­cel­er­ate, which is re­ally re­ward­ing and ex­cit­ing,” Mar­shall said.

THE OB­SERVER FILE PHOTO

Sandy Mar­shall, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Bioin­dus­trial In­no­va­tion Canada, is shown in this file photo speak­ing at an event in Sar­nia. The agency is work­ing with a Water­loo com­pany on a plan to set up a demon­stra­tion plant in Sar­nia.

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