Energy Crops


SBI BioEnergy Inc. Biorefinery to convert non-food plant oils, fats into renewable transportation fuels

March 10, 2016 - An Edmonton company is reaching the final stage of its project to build a biorefinery that will convert non-food canola oil and waste fats into next-generation, renewable transportation fuels that can replace or blend with conventional fuels. The company, SBI BioEnergy (SBI), has been working on scaling up its novel "catalytic" processing technology for the past three years, thanks to $1.4 million in funding from Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions (AI Bio). The process creates no emissions, generates no waste and costs less than other alternative fuel technologies. In just a few weeks SBI expects to move into its newly built facility in the Edmonton Research Park, which will house a demonstration refinery capable of producing up to 10 million litres of renewable fuel per year. Commissioning the plant will take several months, but SBI hopes to start producing by year's end. The company's next goal will be to build a full-scale commercial biorefinery that will produce up to 240 million litres/year by 2018. SBI is able to produce renewable diesel, gasoline and jet fuel. AI Bio provided the funding to SBI in 2013 to advance its proprietary process from the lab to a demonstration-scale plant. "Public investment helped move this innovation along to the stage where SBI has shown it can produce these unique, drop-in and replacement fuels derived from non-food Alberta farm products, and do so at a larger scale" says Steve Price, CEO of AI Bio. "This will not only provide a new market for agricultural producers and companies, it will also help to diversify the provincial economy and bring environmental benefits by filling a technological gap and advancing the renewable fuel industry in Alberta." SBI uses a proprietary catalyst instead of hydrogen in its processing. It uses no water or chemicals and generates no waste. In addition, the process is continuous rather than producing fuel in batches, so further efficiencies are achieved. "This is new technology, invented in Alberta. It comes at the right time in the right place and the market is huge," says SBI president and CEO Dr. Inder Pal Singh, a chemist who founded the company. Alberta is currently importing 300 million litres per year of renewable diesel, primarily from overseas, to blend with conventional fuel, he notes. "AI Bio funding was critical in helping us move from proof of concept bench scale to the demonstration stage," Singh says. "AI Bio also assisted me in making the right connections because (the agency) works with so many people. This has been very helpful."Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions is a provincial government agency that leads and co-ordinates science and innovation to grow prosperity in Alberta's agriculture, food and forest sectors. In addition to AI Bio funding, SBI has received about $460,000 in support from Alberta Innovates Technology Futures. Also on March 10, the Alberta government announced the Climate Change and Emissions Management Corporation (CCEMC) has earmarked a $10 million contribution for SBI to continue its work. SBI BackgroundSBI BioEnergy uses naturally occurring plant oils and waste fats to make its clean, renewable transportation fuels (diesel, gasoline and jet fuel). Feedstocks include off-grade canola oil, waste cooking oil, animal fat from rendering plants and "tall oil," a natural byproduct from wood pulp operations. SBI can also use other non-food oilseeds (such as camelina and carinata mustard) from crops grown on marginal land unsuited for food production. SBI is in negotiations with major energy companies to supply them renewable diesel and renewable gasoline. Commercial refiners are currently importing alternative fuels for blending with conventional product to meet legislated fuel standards. SBI also plans eventually to market renewable jet fuel.In addition to renewable fuels, the SBI technology produces a co-stream of high-purity glycerine, a value-added chemical that can be sold for the manufacture of food products, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. Because the chemical structure of SBI's renewable fuels is identical to petroleum-based products, it is a step up from other alternative fuels such as biodiesel. Renewable fuels bring significant advantages – they can fully replace conventional, petroleum-based fuels with no engine modifications required or they can easily be blended with petroleum products (referred to as a drop-in), says SBI's president and CEO, Dr. Inder Pal Singh.  For these reasons, refiners prefer renewable diesel over biodiesel, says Singh. Biodiesel does not blend freely with petroleum diesel, and requires considerably more infrastructure for storage, transportation and blending. SBI's capital cost is 75 per cent lower and its operating cost is about 50 per cent lower, compared to other biorefineries, he says.


Miscanthus 2.4 times more productive than switchgrass Miscanthus 2.4 times more productive than switchgrass

  Jan. 20, 2017 - US researchers have maintained that miscanthus, long speculated to be the top biofuel producer, yields more than twice as much as switchgrass in the US using an open-source bioenergy crop database gaining traction in plant science, climate change, and ecology research. "To understand yield trends and variation across the country for our major food crops, extensive databases are available — notably those provided by the USDA Statistical Service," said lead author Stephen Long, Gutgsell professor of Plant Biology and Crop Sciences at the University of Illinois. He added: "But there was nowhere to go if you wanted to know about biomass crops, particularly those that have no food value such as miscanthus, switchgrass, willow trees, etc." To fill this gap, researchers at the Energy Biosciences Institute at the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology created BETYdb, an open-source repository for physiological and yield data that facilitates bioenergy research. The goal of this database is not only to store the data but to make the data widely available and usable. | READ MORE.  

Woody Crops

Dr. Ning Yan in her lab at U of T. Turning tree waste into green glue

February 2, 2016 - Two types of extraction techniques have been developed by Ontario researchers at the University of Toronto that can turn tree bark into desirable liquid ingredients for products like environmentally friendly adhesives and foams. And the technology, which is now ready for commercialization, might have application for agricultural feedstocks like crop residues, too, says project leader Dr. Ning Yan, a professor in the Faculty of Forestry and the Department of Chemical Engineering and Applied Chemistry, and Endowed Value-Added Wood and Composite Chair at U of T. “We hope to expand the work we’ve done to develop the bark extraction techniques and the resin formulations to convert the liquefied bark into adhesives to other feedstocks,” she explains. “It could be transferrable to agriculture, whether there are biomass residues as well, not just in forestry.” The four-year Bark Biorefinery project that just wrapped up in 2015 focused on finding higher value for forest residues that are produced in high quantities in sawmills. Bark, for example, typically has no real value-added applications and because it is rich in many types of chemicals, it poses both fire hazards and risks to the environment. Its chemical composition, though, is very similar to wood cellulose, lignin and hemicellulose, and it contains a family of chemicals called extractives because they can usually be easily extracted by using water. Their goal was to remove the phenolic compounds from the bark and use them in products where they could be substituted for petroleum-based ingredients. In addition to the extraction techniques, Yan and her team also developed technology to turn the liquefied bark extracts into bark-based phenolic adhesives, with some successful outcomes. “We have done a lot of resin formulation work and we have benchmarked successfully to commercial products used in particle board, plywood glues, and in panel-making,” Yan explains. “If you substitute 30 per cent phenol for bark extractives, the adhesive properties are comparable to commercial adhesive products.” Researchers at the Bark Biorefinery also developed technology that can convert bark into polyols, which are used to make rigid polyurethane foams in the automotive and construction sectors, as well as invented bark-based epoxy resin. Of the three major chemical platforms, though, it’s the bark-based glue that is the closest to market-readiness. Yan has completed some pilot scale extraction trials with industry partners with the adhesive and is currently trying to move it into commercialization. “Our next phase is to find companies to use this adhesive in their commercial projects so we can conduct verification of our technology in commercial environments,” she says. “We are at lab scale in most other things but have already completed some pilots with the adhesive.” To help in the search for suitable commercialization partners, an engineering design firm has drawn up plans for what an extraction facility next to a pulp mill could look like, she adds. The Bark Biorefinery project was supported by the Ontario Research Excellence Fund.  


UBC researcher Michael Deyholos stands in front of the flax plants he studies. UBC research aims to help Canadian flax farmers

August 10, 2016 - A UBC professor’s flax research could one day help Canadian farmers grow a car fender. In a recent study, UBC researcher Michael Deyholos identified the genes responsible for the bane of many Canadian flax farmers’ existence; the fibres in the plant's stem. “These findings have allowed us to zero in the genetic profile of the toughest part of this plant and may one day help us engineer some of that toughness out,” says Deyholos, a biology professor at UBC's Okanagan campus. “With further research, we might one day be able to help farmers make money off a waste material that wreaks havoc on farm equipment and costs hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars to deal with.” As part of his research, Deyholos and his former graduate student at the University of Alberta dissected thousands of the plant’s stem under a microscope in order to identify which genes in the plant's make up were responsible for the growth of the stem, and which weren’t. Due to the length of the Canadian prairie’s growing season, where flax is grown, farmers typically burn the stems, known as flax straw, as opposed to harvesting the material. In many European countries, flax straw is used as an additive in paper, plastics and other advanced materials such as those used in the production of automobiles. Currently, Canadian flax is used only for the value of its seeds, which can be eaten or broken down into flaxseed oil. Flaxseed oil is used in the manufacturing of paints, linoleum, and as a key element in the manufacturing of packaging materials and plastics. According to the Flax Council of Canada, Canada is one of the largest flax producers in the world with the nation’s prairie provinces cultivating 816,000 tonnes of the plant in 2014/15 on 1.6 million acres of land.Deyholos’ research was recently published in the journal Frontiers of Plant Science.

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