Cement maker first in world to capture CO2 with algae

We all know that making cement is an energy-intensive process, so when carbon prices are introduced in North America it’s going to have a major impact on an industry that quite literally lays at the foundation of our economy. In Ontario, cement maker St. Marys Cement — now part of Brazilian conglomerate Groupo Votorantim — has partnered with stealthy startup Pond Biofuels of Toronto on a project that, since last fall, has already started to capture CO2 from a cement plant in southwestern Ontario. It’s believed to be the first project of its kind in the world. Pond Biofuels, the three-year-old company that developed the processes and algae bioreactor technology behind the project, hopes to demonstrate that the system can be scaled up to accept the emissions from an entire plant or any other energy-intensive industrial facility. In the case of St. Marys, the algae will be harvested, dried using industrial waste heat, and then used to offset fossil fuels that are currently used in its cement kilns. In essense, the CO2 will be recycled over and over again. The company, which became a strategic investor in Pond Biofuels last year, is also investigating the idea of producing biodiesel from the algae that can be used to fuel its own truck fleet.

There are many algae technology companies out there, but it’s nice to see these two Ontario companies actually doing something outside of the lab in a way that directly meets the needs of industry. In fact, Pond Biofuels has its sights set on China as well. The company revealed in December that its St. Marys project had been approved as part of the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate program. This means it will get funding to do a feasibility study that will assess the suitability of its technology for the cement industry in China.

Attention all suppliers: Ontario Power Generation needs your wood pellets!

Ontario Power Generation issued a call today to potential suppliers of wood pellets to the Atikokan coal plant, which the utility plans to beginning converting to 100 per cent biomass burn in 2012. OPG requests that proponents provide pricing for a minimum volume that is between 22,500 and 30,000 tonnes (a year) and pricing for the entire 90,000 tonnes (a year) requirement,” according to the company’s ” request for indicative prices.”

In other words, it expects it will need 90,000 tonnes annually but wants to break this down into three our four chunks so it can have several suppliers. The final stage of conversion will begin in June 2012 and commissioning of the new equipment will likely start in August. OPG expects full-on commercial operation will happen by December. “The wood fuel pellet supply being considered under this RFIP will have a local content requirement such that the source of the wood fibre and the location of the production facilities that will produce the wood pellets shall be within Ontario,” according to the company. “OPG will require that the wood-based fuel pellets be accompanied by Chain of Custody Certification ensuring that the wood pellets supplied to OPG are manufactured from wood fibre sourced from well managed forests.”

In the Great Lakes St. Lawrence forest region of Ontario it’s estimated that there is about 1.475 million oven dry metric tons of wood fibre available for sustainable harvesting each year, or about 1.25 million if we take into account that some of the biomass will be used as fuel to dry the biofibre. So what OPG is requesting in this initial round is roughly 6 per cent of what’s available — and let’s not forget that pellets made of grass crops are also a potential source of fuel. Let’s keep in mind these converted coal plants will be used as peakers when using biomass fuel. This means there is plenty of biomass available for several units being targeted for conversion at the massive Nanticoke coal plant.

What we’re witnessing here is the beginning of the creation of an entirely new industry in Ontario developed around the need to economically harvest, pelletize and transport biomass fuel pellets to support the province’s coal phaseout strategy. This will create many jobs in parts of the province where jobs are needed most, and will establish a made-in-Ontario biomass fuel supply chain that can support the move to more distributed forms of biomass energy generation. There is plenty of opportunity here for entrepreneurs looking to play a role.

Community solar heating up as inclusive way to deploy PV

Kate Galbraith over at the NYT’s Green Inc. has an interesting post about community solar and how it’s beginning to take hold in certain U.S. communities, including St. George, Utah, Falmouth, Massachusetts, and Sacramento, California, where the local utility there runs a program called “Solar Shares” that allows people to buy into PV projects without having to buy the PV.  A similar initiative is in the works in Tucson, Arizona. Fact is, not everybody owns a home or has a home where the roof is ideal for installing PV. This excludes a large part of the population, like renters, from incentive programs that try to encourage residential uptake of solar PV.

In Ontario, a group called Countryside Energy Co-Op is among a number of community co-ops that have emerged to take advantage of the province’s new feed-in-tariff program. Countryside, a co-op serving southwestern Ontario, seeks out commercial building owners who are willing to lease out their rooftop space for a large PV project. It will then oversee construction of the project and ultimately own and collect feed-in-tariff revenues on behalf of members, which get an annual dividend over 20 years based on the number of shares they own. The program is ideal for “People with unsuitable locations (for example shading due to trees, buildings, etc. which significantly lowers electrical output and therefore revenue) but who want PV can become members of Countryside Energy and invest through Preference Shares, their capital contributing to develop Co-op PV projects on large buildings,” according to a recent press release from the co-op. “As the electricity generated will be connected to the grid, Co-op members will generate and use their own virtual electricity.”

Countryside has partnered with ARISE Technologies Corp., a PV manufacturer and installer based in Waterloo, Ontario. Other co-op style initiatives might just focus on a single projects for a community. For example, the Unitarian Universalist Congregration in Toronto has registered as a co-op and is selling shares within its community to fund a single project that will see PV installed on its church rooftop. The purchase of shares has been strong, showing that there is interest in this kind of model.

It’s nice to see. I can see similar initiatives popping up across the province around schools and community centres.

Are you starving for change?

I received an e-mail today from a guy in Waterloo, Ontario, who is on a hunger strike until the opposition federal Liberals or Conservative government publicly commit to passing Bill C-311, the Climate Change Accountability Act, which would commit Canada by law to meeting its international climate-change obligations. Dante Ryel says he has been fasting since March 3, and it may still be a few weeks before legislators vote on the private-member’s bill, which was introduced by NDPer Bruce Hyer.

Ryel told me he’s had trouble getting the media to pay attention to his hunger strike. So I’m posting this here to help him spread the word. He’s got a Facebook page where he’s trying to build up members — so far he’s at 855. He’s calling his activist group Starving for Change. You can see some of the YouTube videos he has posted here.