Report: Southwest Ontario can support biomass-to-sugar plant

By Erin Voegele | August 27, 2013

The Ontario Federation of Agriculture recently announced that a value chain consortium has presented a final report to local corn producers, showing that it is commercially viable to establish a cellulosic sugar plant in southwestern Ontario to support the future production of green chemicals.

According to the report, titled “Development of a Business Case for a Cornstalks to Bioprocessing Venture,” the objective of the analysis was to investigate the potential to establish a commercial-scale biorefinery in Sarnia, Ontario, that would covert 250,000 metric tons of dry corn stover per year into cellulosic sugars.

The report addresses several key metrics, including pricing options, business model options, financial scenarios, and risk identification and mitigation. Within the report, the authors discuss several potential options for pricing stover, and determine that the price of the feedstock in 2012 would vary from $98 yo $159 per dry ton. The $98 per ton price is based only on harvest, nutrient removal and storage costs. A mid-level $149 per ton is based on wheat straw value, and a $159 per ton price is based on a feed replacement value. Overall, the report estimates that 500,000 metric tons of dry stover are available in the southwestern Ontario counties of Lambton, Huron, Middlesex and Chatham-Kent.

Regarding potential business models, the analysis discusses a direct sale model, a request for purchase model, a supply co-op model and a bioprocessing co-op model, ultimately recommending the bioprocessing co-op model. The report notes that by participating in a bioprocessing co-op, corn stover producers could share in the returns of the sugar plant and potentially increase the value received for their feedstock.

Within the analysis, the authors of the report also note that the cellulosic sugar plant would have to be feedstock neutral, with the ability to incorporate alternative biomass sources that ensure year-round supply.

Several areas requiring additional investigation are also identified in the report, including storage, harvest techniques and feedstock diversification. The authors also point to transportation and logistics, as factors that require additional investigation.

In addition, the report describes several next steps that should be taken to move forward with the project, including the selection of a biomass-to-sugar technology. The report also recommends developing a harvest calendar with alternative feedstocks, conducting research into supply system efficiency, research into business innovation to support the plant, and construction of a demonstration-scale facility. Finally, the report recommends that action be taken to educate the public and producers about all stages of the project.

According to the OFA, the report was prepared by researchers at the University of Guelph, Ridgetown Campus. The value chain consortium is represented by the OFA, Grain Farmers of Ontario, AGRIS CO-operative, Ontario AgriFood Technologies, the BIoIndustrial Innovation Centre, Midori Renewables, BioAmber and LANXESS.

A full copy of the report can be downloaded from the OFA website.