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Research park launching pilot plant

 

By TYLER KULA, The Observer, December 02, 2008

The UWO Research Park in Sarnia is launching a pilot plant to turn agricultural waste into useful products.

When the Bioindustrial Innovation Centre opens by next summer it will feature pyrolysis machines that incinerate corn husks, pepper refuse and soybean stalks at high temperatures.

“Eventually, this will become like a pilot hotel for companies and entrepreneurs,” said John Kabel, plant and commercialization manager.

Pyrolysis is achieved through burning materials at temperatures up to 1,000 C. in the absence of oxygen. The process requires an anaerobic environment, using nitrogen gasses to almost instantaneously break down waste into biochars, bio-oils and uncondensable gas vapour.

Applications for such products include gasoline refining, food additives and household chemicals, said Katherine Albion, commercialization and research engineer at the park.

Similar experiments have been conducted using coffee grinds and tobacco leaves, which are dried over several days in a ventilated facility, Albion said.

“Once they’re dry, they’ll go through a size reduction to form smaller particles and from there they’ll go into the reactor to be pyrolysed.”

Experiments will be conducted by students from the University of Western Ontario or co-op students from Lambton College, she said.

Renovations to the former Dow Chemical research building are underway using a $10 million provincial grant, with a $15-million federal grant to run the program. 

Research at the Sarnia facility will be done in co-operation with the Institute for Chemicals and Fuels from Alternative Resources (ICFAR). The technology will help shift Sarnia-Lambton to greener, more sustainable economy, said Don Hewson, the centre’s managing director. Given proper investment and research, more agricultural products could be used to make products ranging from shopping bags to clothing to fuel. The research, he said, can redirect Lambton from a largely unsustainable petroleum-based industry to a more sustainable agriculture-based industry.

“The primary focus of the centre,” Kabel said, “is chemicals from biomass, the next focus would be energy technologies based on biomass, and then we’ll be trying out biological alternatives to existing chemical processes.”

Discussions with approximately seven interested clients are ongoing. They will be invited to use the finished facility to research their own innovations.

Pyrolysis facilities will be set up at Sarnia, at ICFAR north of London, and a smaller facility at UWO.

Observer Article ID# 1324566