Bio-chemical cluster on a roll
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.
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.