The company behind a refinery to turn fat and grease into renewable fuels says the pilot plant could soon offer another local market for Alberta farmers and cut greenhouse gas emissions at the same time.
Edmonton-based SBI BioEnergy is building the approximately $10-million mini-refinery at the Edmonton Research Park to demonstrate proprietary technology that turns vegetable oils, animal fats and tall oil — a by-product of the pulp and paper industry — into renewable diesel and jet fuel.
The project would also help attract investment partners that SBI needs to move into its full-scale production goal of 240 million litres a year by 2018.
“This is a crucial step for getting into commercialization,” said Inder Singh, founding president and CEO of SBI, at the official groundbreaking on Monday.
“We have been working on this technology for over eight years now and finally we’ve got to this point.”
When it begins operations in 2016, the pilot plant will be capable of producing up to 10 million litres of “drop-in” renewable diesel and jet fuels.
Drop-in refers to the fact they are chemically indistinguishable and perform similarly to petroleum fuels. Singh believes his products may eventually replace biodiesel and ethanol.
Renewable fuels can cut greenhouse gas emissions because higher concentrations can be blended into regular fuel to meet renewable fuel standards.
Refineries in Canada prefer to buy renewable diesel over biodiesel because it is fully compatible with existing infrastructure, distribution systems and engines, according to SBI.
SBI’s refining process uses a catalytic technology that doesn’t use any water or create any waste material or use any hydrogen, Singh said.
He said it’s the only technology known that can convert biodiesel into renewable diesel.
Locating the plant in Edmonton is a way to repay the community where he arrived in 1987 as a researcher on a two-year project but stayed to start a family and a business.
The process could become a new market for non-food canola, damaged by weather or in storage, he said.
“Once our commercial plant is up, we will probably be buying in the tune of $200 million worth of farm produce,” Singh said.
SBI expects to hire 25 more employees within a year to add to its current staff of eight.
The pilot plant received financial support and assistance from partners including Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions, the City of Edmonton, the Edmonton Economic Development Corp, the federal and provincial governments and Alberta Innovates Technology Futures.
“We’re pleased to have financially supported development of SBI’s new renewable fuel pilot plant,” said Steve Price, CEO of Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions.
“Its facility strengthens Alberta’s expanding bioproduct sector and gives Alberta farmers a new market for off-grade canola.”