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Biodiesel plant first anchor tenant (5/03)

The beginnings of a biodiesel manufacturing plant could take shape in Sudbury as early as this year as an Ottawa-based green technology company prepares to set up shop as an anchor business in the city’s eco-industrial park.

The beginnings of a biodiesel manufacturing plant could take shape in Sudbury as early as this year as an Ottawa-based green technology company prepares to set up shop as an anchor business in the city’s eco-industrial park.


The project proponents, Topia Energy Inc. of Ottawa, self-proclaimed as Canada’s first commercial producer of biodiesel fuel, holds the Canadian distribution rights to processing equipment manufactured in the U.S.


Though Paul Graham, plants engineer for the City of Greater Sudbury’s public works department, would not divulge particulars of the plant’s technology due to the industry’s competitive nature, he says the company’s first phase in the plan is to produce three million litres of biodiesel fuel annually.


“It is a modular plant that allows the project to begin its initial production within a major capital investment,” says Graham “Topia intends to build more of these plants across Canada, and Sudbury is the place to do the first one.”


Topia’s parent company, The Green Incubator Inc., operates a number of biodiesel facilities in the U.S. and is working on constructing a plant in Australia.


Much of the biodiesel produced locally would be used within the community, says Graham, “but the intention is to market biodiesel all over Ontario from a Sudbury facility.


“We like to ramp up at least four times (the initial plan) and move up to 12 million litres a year and potentially higher than that if the market is to grow. And we’re pretty confident it will.”


Biodiesel is a non-toxic, cleaner burning, renewable diesel fuel derived from agricultural commodities such as vegetable oils and animal fats.


With the plant’s primary feedstock being canola, Graham sees an opportunity to create a new market for growers in the region and widespread benefits for the area’s agricultural sector, the city’s economic development and the environment.


“The region from Sault Ste. Marie to Sudbury to North Bay and north to the Tri-Towns is one of the best canola growing regions in Ontario.


“We see this not just as a benefit to Sudbury, but as a regional scheme whose main benefit will be creation of a new market for a cash crop.”


Discussions are ongoing between Topia and farm groups to look at crop production since the first phase requires about 10,000 acres of canola, with the possibility of later boosting that to 40,000 acres.


“Any land currently in pasture or hay can easily be converted to canola,” says Graham.


Biodiesel also presents some transportation opportunities for the fuel to be trucked to Ottawa and Toronto.


Sudbury is a good choice since fuel shipped north out of southern Ontario results in dead-head space going back south.


Owned and operated by Topia, the plant would be situated near the city’s landfill site on a 162-acre parcel being set aside for an eco-industrial park. Initially about five or six plant jobs for chemists and technicians would be created, but the plant should generate many spinoff opportunities since a key byproduct of the transesterification process is glycerin.


The city is looking for entrepreneurs interested in setting up complementary businesses near the plant to use the glycerin.


Glycerin is used in candles, creams and cosmetics and has numerous other potentials, says Graham.


“We intend to go out and aggressively look for niche companies that want to set up in Sudbury in the eco-industrial park to take advantage of the waste byproduct from the biodiesel plant.”


Graham says Topia is also talking with a number of corporations in Toronto about purchasing biodiesel.


The current key biodiesel markets are mass transit, marine and other environmentally sensitive areas such as mines.


Toronto Hydro has a large fleet burning biodiesel and major field tests of biodiesel-powered vehicles have been held in several North American cities.


Graham says Sudbury is planning a similar demonstration project soon involving public transit and public works vehicles.


Biodiesel is one initiative of Sudbury’s community energy plan to promote energy efficiency, reduce the city’s operating costs and in the long term produce 50 per cent of the community’s requirements locally through renewable energy.


“We’re interested in energy solutions,” says Graham. “Currently as a community we spend $392 million a year on energy. All that money leaves town and this plan is intent on finding local energy solutions that will in the long run start to retain those energy dollars and create an entirely new revenue stream in the community, allowing investment in future environmental and energy projects.”


Sudbury’s growing reputation for being interested in alternative energy solutions, especially in its much publicized wind power project, established contacts that brought the biodiesel proposal to the community.


Based on figures supplied by Topia, Graham says the regional economic impact forecasted from the first phase could be in the order of $17 million in direct and indirect benefits to the community.


The city has no plans to take an equity position with the project, but will work with Topia to create a cluster of eco-friendly businesses producing products or waste byproducts that could “cascade” into one another.