Waste pop, beer first feedstocks for Canadian pilot plant

By Holly Jessen | February 04, 2011

It will take in pop and beer and churn out ethanol--at least at first.

By the end of February a $500,000 modular pilot plant will be set up for ethanol production in Atlantic Canada. It’s part of a research project led by New Brunswick Community College’s bioenergy and bioproducts applied research and technology facility in Grand Falls, New Brunswick, located near the Maine border. Funding came half from Canada’s federal government and half from the province,” said Kevin Shiell, scientific director for New Brunswick Community College.

The first research partner is Milco Industries, a company that collects waste pop and beer, typically destined for landfills. Milco gets paid to collect it and then pays out between $100,000 and $200,000 in landfill costs for disposal. If the pilot plant project goes well, the company could decide to install its own, larger-scale ethanol production facility. The company has enough waste pop and beer to produce 1 to 2 MMly, Shiell said, or between 250,000 to 500,000 gallons of ethanol.

Milco will have the pilot plant on site for about six to eight months, after which it will move elsewhere for other feedstock testing at a pulp mill, the college itself or for grain-based ethanol production tests. “This gives them the chance to test drive the process and system and get some cost of production numbers and things like that,” Shiell told EPM.

The automated modular plant built on three skids provides readings to use in feasibility and economical scale studies. “What sort of changes can we make to this initial pilot plant that we’re going to put up, to make it so it can operate economically at a small scale,” he asked. “This may be too small, but maybe a million liter plant we can actually get it so that it is feasible.”

Diversified Metal Engineering of Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, designed and built the plant. The company has 20 years experience in design and fabrication of process engineering systems for brewery, industrial, bioenergy and marine industries. Diversified also built a pilot plant for Atlantech Bio Energy Corp that produces ethanol from sugar beets in Milford, Nova Scotia.“As of December 2010, government legislation requires that gasoline in Canada has to have an average 5 percent ethanol content,” said Peter Toombs, president. “And with no businesses in the whole of Atlantic Canada that can produce ethanol at a commercial level, this project could not have come at a better time.”

The bioenergy and bioproducts research facility at New Brunswick Community College was established in 2004 and focuses its efforts in on ethanol, followed by biodiesel and biogas research, Shiell said. The main goal of the research facility is to bolster bioenergy and bioproducts projects in Atlantic Canada, which, like the eastern U.S., hasn’t seen a build out of the industry as in other areas. “It really lagged behind the rest of Canada,” he said.

By testing multi feedstocks and demonstrating pilot-scale production Sheill hopes to foster an ethanol industry at a scale appropriate for the area. “We grow corn, but we don’t grow enough corn,” he said. “We have woods and forest but we don’t really have enough to really put up a 250 MMgy ethanol plant. That’s just not going to happen.”