Tag Archives: Pond Biofuels

55 “clean energy” projects get $82 million in federal funding… Great news, despite the calculated timing

xpkkqThe money that was set aside for clean energy initiatives in the federal Conservative government’s 2011 budget is finally beginning to trickle out, and while it’s a welcome boost for 55 project proponents — including 15 pre-commercial demonstration projects — the timing of this $82-million announcement is suspect. After all, Canada has been criticized for its weak environmental performance as it awaits approval of the Keystone XL pipeline project. “There needs to be more progress,” said David Jacobson, U.S. Ambassador to Canada, after President Obama’s State of the Union address in February. Basically, the U.S. position is that if Canada (and Alberta) doesn’t start pulling its weigh on environmental efforts it will make the decision to approve a pipeline project that much more difficult for the Obama administration. Since then, the Harper Conservatives — and oil sands proponents, including Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver — have been on the defensive, making regular trips to Washington, D.C., to “educate” the Americans about how much Canada is doing on the environmental file. This would include weaning ourselves off coal, which of course is not what’s happening in Alberta or anywhere else in Canada except Ontario. But whatever, that has never stopped this federal government from repackaging the efforts of others to look like their own, or throwing money at something in the 11th hour to rework perceptions and ultimately get their way, despite the reality. Rather than confront the problem of climate change head on, my federal government shamefully responds to criticism by bad-mouthing the likes of NASA scientist James Hansen and former U.S. vice-president Al Gore, dismissing both as misinformed on the matter. Uh, yeah… right.

All that said, I’m impressed with the diversity of projects being funded with this $82 million. They include:

  • A commercial demonstration of a system that manages electric-vehicle charging stations in Quebec;
  • Demonstration of a wind-biomass-battery system in the north of Quebec where there’s heavy reliance on diesel;
  • Integration of wind energy in diesel-based generation systems to power remote mining operations;
  • The study of Very Low Head hydro turbines, a promising technology that opens up hydroelectric generation opportunities across Canada;
  • A project to tap low-temperature geothermal energy for power production;
  • Advancing efficiency and reducing the cost of in-stream tidal energy;
  • Development and testing of prototypes of “plug and play” building-integrated solar PV and thermal systems;
  • A project to recover energy from refrigeration waste heat;
  • Advancing a process that takes syngas made from the gasification of municipal solid waste and turns it into drop-in jet and diesel fuel;
  • Researching and developing a super-efficient air-source heat pump that can provide heating in very cold climates and cooling during summers at low cost;
  • An inventory and analysis of recoverable waste heat sources from industrial processes in Alberta;
  • Development of a pre-commercial thermoacoustic engine that is super efficient and can be used for co-generation applications.

In addition to the above-mentioned projects, there is a big emphasis on technologies that help reduce the environmental footprint of the oil sands, as well as coal-fired power production   in provinces that are heavy coal users, such as Alberta and Nova Scotia. Indeed, roughly a quarter of the funds has been earmarked for projects aimed at reducing the environmental impacts of fossil-fuel production and use (or perpetuating the production and use of fossil fuels, depending on how you view it). I have mixed feelings about this. One part of me says, “Great, we really need to reduce emissions and water contamination/consumption related to the oil sands and burning coal.” The other part of me says, “Oh great, more window dressing. This will make it look like the federal government is doing something without actually doing something, as these technologies are unlikely to have an impact anytime soon. We’re screwed.”

Two projects in Nova Scotia that are being funded will focus on scoping out ideal sites for geological sequestration of CO2 and coming up with a monitoring and verification standard to make sure CO2 injected underground isn’t leaking out — i.e. will stay underground. Money is also being given to a Quebec company called CO2 Solutions, which I’ve written about many times over the years. This company, demonstrating biomimicry in action, has developed an enzyme that can extract CO2 from industrial effluent emissions. It will use the new funding to support a pilot-scale facility that can capture 90 per cent of C02 from an oil sands in situ production and upgrading operation. “This is expected to result in cost savings of at least 25 per cent compared to conventional carbon capture technology,” according to the government funding announcement.

One project will look at whether impurities in CO2 have an impact on the capture, transport and underground storage of CO2, while another will study geological sites in the Athabasca area (i.e. where the oil sands are located) that are ideal for underground storage of CO2. Funding will also be used to investigate the use of non-aqueous solvents to extract bitumen, thereby reducing the energy needed to create steam (i.e. reducing water needs and the proliferation of toxic tailing ponds). Efforts to improve the efficiency of steam-assisted gravity drainage processes and reduce the environmental impacts of tailing ponds are also being funded. On the water front, one project will explore the ability to use non-potable, briny water to create steam for oil sands production, while another will demonstrate a technology that can clean up and recycle the waste water used during oil sands production. In total, about $21 million will go toward all of these projects, designed to help “dirty” energy become — or look — much cleaner.

In a separate announcement, the federal government also disclosed plans to support construction of a $19-million facility in Alberta that will use algae to recycle industrial CO2 emissions, in this case emissions from an oil sands facility operated by Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. This is great news for Toronto-based Pond Biofuels, a company I have written about extensively and which currently operates a pilot facility at St. Mary’s Cement, where it grows algae from kiln emissions. The end goal of this three-year oil sands project is to use the algae to create commercial biofuels and other bioproducts. All of this innovation is important, and funding of these projects — as well as the recent re-funding of Sustainable Development Technology Canada, an important supporter of cleantech innovation in my country — is encouraging. Yet, it’s not getting us to where we need to be. Nowhere close.

We’ve been down this capture-and-hide carbon path before. A handful of high-profile projects announced several years ago have still led nowhere, and two have already been cancelled. Yet the federal government, and Alberta, is still putting most of its eggs in the CCS basket. Indeed, they’re still heavily promoting this idea of a new pipeline network that will carry CO2 from the oil sands and other heavy emitters to sequestration sites. Alberta Energy Minister Ken Hughes recently touted this proposed pipeline as a “Trans-Canada highway for Carbon.” Here’s a question: If the industry and federal government can support the ambitious idea of building a cross-Canada network of CO2-carrying pipelines, why does it poo-poo the idea of a Trans-Canada power transmission corridor that could carry clean hydroelectric, wind and solar power from where it’s abundant to where it’s needed? The positioning is proof that moving toward a low-carbon world is not about can’t-do, it’s about won’t-do; it’s about protecting established industries and infrastructure and preventing a cleaner, 21st-Century alternative from emerging.

Again, the recent round of innovation funding is good news. But let’s look at the reality: Last week we sadly hit 400 parts per millions (ppm) of CO2 in our fragile atmosphere, a level never before experienced in human history. Many scientists say 350 ppm is where we should be, and certainly we shouldn’t go much past 400 ppm. We’re heading in the wrong direction, and notoriously conservative organizations like the International Energy Agency and the World Bank are now even sounding the alarm. If the federal and Alberta governments really want to prove to the Americans — and Canadians — that they’re serious about climate change, they would complement their innovation spending with a recognition that the oil sands extraction machine can’t continue its current fast pace of growth, and that some day — in 10, 20, 30 years — the oil orgy must come to a complete end. This is true of all “carbon bombs” being developed around the world, not just the oil sands. And if we are to adequately prepare for that day, we need to carefully transition to a low-carbon economy. That means taxing carbon, a policy approach now being encouraged by both the IEA and World Bank and accepted by most credible economists. That means creating a realistic vision for the country and working toward it — and by “realistic” I mean recognizing that perpetuating the growth (or current rate) of oil sands production and coal use is not an option.

This isn’t about educating people so they are “made” to know better about the oil sands’ alleged strong environmental record. This isn’t about clever public relations campaigns and slick and deceptive advertising meant to pull the wool over the eyes of consumers and voters. This isn’t about targeted funding announcements to make a government appear that it cares. This is about facing facts, and preparing for eventualities. Canada isn’t doing that, and soon enough, Mother Nature is going to spank our sorry asses.

Video tour: Pond Biofuels turns cement plant emissions into algae

I had the opportunity this week to visit a St. Marys Cement plant in the small and scenic town of St. Marys, Ontario. A subsidiary of Brazilian cement giant Votorantim Cimentos, the company is working with Toronto-based Pond Biofuels on a project that turns smokestack emissions from the plant into algae. The algae, based on a strain taken from the local Thames River, gobble up CO2, SOx, NOx and other pollutants that are piped into special algae photobioreactors, two of which are housed in a pilot facility located beside the plant. The algae are harvested and can be dried using low-grade waste heat from the cement plant’s kilns. The dried algae can then be burned in the plant’s kilns instead of petroleum coke, helping to reduce the plant’s CO2 emissions. Alternatively — and if the economics justify it — the algae can be processed into biodiesel and other green fuels/chemicals.

I decided, for the first time, to take a video camera with me and film a walkthrough of the pilot facility to give my readers a better sense of how this all works. I’m new to this whole video and movie editing game, but I did manage to put something decent together, which I post here as a YouTube upload. It’s nearly 10 minutes long, but if you’re interested in the process you may find it worth watching. Like I said, it’s my first time doing this — I would appreciate any constructive feedback.

Lafarge’s Ontario plant still on track for biomass burn in cement kilns

When I wrote earlier about Pond Biofuels and its work with St. Marys Cement, I mentioned that Lafarge’s plan to burn biomass fuel in its cement kiln in Bath, Ontario, was on hold because of the financial difficulties of its Kingston-based partner, Performance Plants, which had bioengineered a variety of drought-resistant grass/tree species to grow on marginal farmlands. According to Lafarge, however, the project is continuing on course despite the troubles at Performance Plants. Here’s how Robert Cumming, manager of environmental affairs at Lafarge Canada, explained the situation in a recent e-mail: Continue reading Lafarge’s Ontario plant still on track for biomass burn in cement kilns

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.

Two Canadian CO2-suckers get funding: CO2 Solution, Pond Biofuels

Algae or enzymes? That is the question. Both are moving forward as an approach to capturing CO2, and both are getting funding. Quebec City-based CO2 Solution announced last week that Codexis Inc. acquired a 17-per-cent stake in the company for $2 million. The two companies have signed a joint development agreement whereby they will collaborate on the use of “enzymatic carbon capture” technology.  CO2 Solution has developed a process that relies on the enzyme carbonic anhydrase to extract carbon dioxide from the smokestacks of coal power and industrial plants. This particular enzyme is used by humans and other mammals to extract CO2 from the blood stream that is later exhaled. Codexis brings to the table a way to improve the ability of this enzyme to thrive in harsh industrial environments. The companies are betting that this approach will be less energy-intensive and therefore less expensive than other solutions in development or on the market.

Meanwhile, Toronto-based Pond Biofuels Inc. says one of its CO2-to-algae demonstration projects has been approved as part of the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate program. The company, in partnership with cement manufacturer St. Marys Cement, has established a microalgae facility that uses CO2 from the neighbouring cement plant as a source of nutrients for the organisms. The algae is then expected to be harvested and used as biomass fuel in the plant’s cement kiln. Pond Biofuels will now get funding under the Asia-Pacific Partnership for a feasibility study that will assess the suitability of its technology for the cement industry in China.