June 21, 2017 – Paul Morden, The Observer – A British Columbia company is planning to manufacture a low-calorie food sweetener along with bio-chemicals at a $20-million demonstration plant to be built in Sarnia.
The exact site for the S2G BioChem plant is still to be determined, said Sandy Marshall, executive director of Bioindustrial Innovation Canada, a government-supported agency providing some funding for the project.
Engineering for the plant is underway and construction is expected to begin in 2018, according to a news release.
The Sarnia facility is expected to convert forestry and agricultural residues into more than 2,000 tonnes annually of the sweetener xylitol, as well as bio-glycols.
Once operating, the plant is expected to have a permanent staff of 13.
Marshall said Sarnia-based Bioindustrial Innovation Canada is working with the Vancouver company to find the “optimal location” in Sarnia for the demonstration plant.
The company’s other partners and investors include the international food giant Mondelez, maker of Oreos, Caramilk and Toblerone bars, Chips Ahoy and other brands.
S2G BioChem has operated a pilot plant since 2012 on the campus of the University of British Columbia.
While the demonstration plant the company plans to build won’t be as large as those announced previously for Sarnia by Comet Biorefining and Origin Materials, “it is substantial,” Marshall said.
“On top of that, the product that they going to produce in this plant, xylitol, has a fairly high value, so they’ll be able to generate some fairly good revenue.”
At the same time, the company’s technology produces bio-glycols, a replacement for petrochemicals that can be used to make packaging, lotions, liquid detergents, de-icing fluids and other products.
“This a very exciting time for S2G BioChem as we begin to execute our growth strategy to generate revenues from the production of fossil-free, value-added products,” CEO Mark Kirby said in the news release.
“We will gain invaluable experience before replicating this high-yield facility throughout North America and the rest of the world.”
Part of the discussions between Bioindustrial Innovation Canada and S2G BioChem is the possibility Sarnia could be considered when the company looks in the future for sites for larger manufacturing facilities, Marshall said.
“Having them in Sarnia, and having them integrated into our Sarnia system certainly gives us a leading edge on any expansions,” he said.
The company’s technology allows it to use different types of raw materials, including agricultural residue.
“What’s optimal will determine where they might expand,” Marshall said.
Bio-chemical manufacturers using bio-mass tend to build manufacturing sites close their raw material to reduce transportation costs, he said.
“They’ll go where they have the most availability to bio-mass, and certainly Sarnia is well-positioned there,” Marshall said.
“There is a lot of bio-mass available from agricultural sources around Sarnia, so we can be the home for a number of plants.”
Comet Biorefining, a company originally based in London, is planning to build a plant in Sarnia to turn corn and wheat stalks into sugar for industrial customers. It’s expected to be operating by 2019.
Just last week, California-based Origin Materials announced it plans to build a commercial-scale demonstration plant in Sarnia to make bio-chemicals for use in the manufacturing of polymers and other products.
Marshall said the bio-glycol S2G BioChem manufactures as part of it process “fits very well with the Sarnia area.”
Officials in Sarnia-Lambton have been working for several years to attract bio-chemical companies to operate alongside the community’s traditional petrochemical manufacturers and refineries.
Montreal-based BioAmber opened a plant in 2015 that turns corn syrup into bio-succinic acid, a building block chemical. Prior to that, Suncor opened an ethanol plant in St. Clair Township.
“There has been a real acceleration over the last year,” Marshall said about the number of announcements of bio-companies planning to locate in Sarnia-Lambton.
He added Bioindustrial Innovation Canada has been talking with officials at S2G BioChem for some time.
“It just takes a while to get these to a place where final decisions get made,” Marshall said.
Financial support the agency receives from the federal and provincial governments “is paying a big dividend here,” Marshall said.
“It gives us some more levers to attract these companies.”
The size of the “pipeline” of companies considering Sarnia-Lambton “is growing quickly,” Marshall said.
“A lot of them are early stage.”
Because of that, Marshall added, “I’m not sure there will be any significant announcements beyond these two companies in the next short period of time.”
But, he added, “There are a number of things that are coming, and I would like to thing we’ll have more announcements this year, but we’ll have to see.”