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City sees power in cash crops (2/03)

An organization in northeastern Ontario has identified an opportunity to diversify and expand the economy of the North under the Kyoto Protocol.

An organization in northeastern Ontario has identified an opportunity to diversify and expand the economy of the North under the Kyoto Protocol.

The board of the Timmins Chamber of Commerce identified the Kyoto Protocol as a topic of immediate interest and importance to their membership, and they agreed that it would be prudent to take a proactive stance and seek out the opportunities that ratification of the Kyoto Protocol would provide for the North.

The Kyoto Opportunities Committee, established to look at what business opportunities exist as a result of the Kyoto Protocol, has labeled biofuel production as a vital component to realize the vision.

“(Biofuel) had the best potential for the widest range of impact on economic conditions,” says Marilyn Wood, business development manager for Mikro-Tek Inc. in Timmins and Timmins Chamber of Commerce board member.

The committee undertook a vigorous researching campaign to look at the biodiesel industry in Ontario and the Northern United States in order to gain a better understanding of the industry.

“We looked at what companies are doing this, what is their history, where they are located and statistics on the industry,” Wood says.

The committee scheduled a meeting with Timmins area mine managers on Jan. 24 to discuss their interest in being the end users of the biodiesel product.

“We will know what direction to take depending on their response,” says Wood. “We will know to continue with the feasibility study or go directly to a Stage 2 proposal for an actual biodiesel industry.”

The committee is currently reviewing the mandates of various funding organizations.

Although still in its infancy, it is envisioned the project will diversify the agricultural industry in the North with the expansion of oilseed crops. The targeted crops are soy and canola. The soy beans provide a higher protein oil and canola provides a greater quantity of oil. The committee will look at the pros and cons of each and how they would be incorporated into a crop rotation.

“We will look at the current use of agricultural land and how much is available for conversion to these crops if they become a cash crop.”

The required number of growing days, temperatures required and the amount anticipated to be harvested will also be looked at.

The committee will look at establishing a crushing plant for separating protein meal from oil. Livestock feed and oil are produced when oilseed crops are processed.

“We will be looking at the markets for each product.”

The two products will provide a local source of livestock protein feed and provide a local source of oil needed in the production of biodiesel fuel.

“It will provide a local use for crops, instead of shipping them out and paying freight expenses,” says Wood. “If we did not have the crops to provide fuel for production, then we would have to buy it from somewhere else.”

The project could establish a biodiesel production facility if there is significant interest.

“This would create jobs and create industrial expansion.”

The project would also supply biodiesel fuel to mines to reduce the particulate level and carcinogenic effects of regular diesel underground.

“It is a health and safety matter,” says Wood. “We will look at the emissions of biodiesel opposed to regular diesel.”

One challenge facing biodiesel in the North is the cold weather. In frigid temperatures there is only a certain level of biodiesel mixture that can be used because it will congeal.

“Very cold areas are a challenge, but the potential for cold testing for vehicles looking to convert to biofuels will be there.”

One area, which makes biodiesel feasible, is underground mining.

“It is warm down there and you have a year-round use for it because the biodiesel would not be affected by the cold.”

Switching from regular diesel to biodiesel requires little or no modifications to the existing engine. Big dealers like Caterpillar, John Deere and Cummins have endorsed biodiesel for warranties.

The only thing standing in the way of biodiesel becoming a widely used product is the price.

“Biodiesel is slightly higher than regular diesel, but with the bugs being ironed out of the process stage the costs are coming down,” says Wood. “The costs are the market drivers.”

The committee is looking forward to working with different regions of the North to make it a pan-northern experience, she adds.