Cornwall biofuel plant environmentally OK: report

Nigel Armstrong
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Fermentation line in Corwall PEI facility.

Atlantec wants to become one of the world's first ethanol producers direct from sugar-beets and its Cornwall research facility will use rainwater to do it.

Atlantec Bioenergy hosted an open house Tuesday to present an environmental assessment of the facility. The open house was held in Cornwall where the company is building a small-scale plant to test and demonstrate the conversion of sugar beets directly into ethanol fuel.

About 30 people dropped in to browse over the course of three hours.


The report only looks at the research building still under development at the Cornwall Business Park. It did not consider any agriculture or environment issues that may arise from growing sugar beets on P.E.I. The amount of sugar beets needed to supply this facility is small, the public was told.

There is an established and in some circles controversial industry converting corn into ethanol fuel in North America, said Ron Coles, a vice-president of Atlantec. To a lesser extent there is also a wheat to ethanol industry.

Both of those processes require energy and expense to convert the plant starch into a sugar. Those processes also require a lot of water.

Sugar beets already have sugars so no conversion is necessary, and they have lots of water in the beet, some 75 per cent of its mass. Only a small amount of extra water is needed for Atlantec's patented system.

"We will not draw any water from the municipality other than for domestic water," said Coles. "We will get 300,000 gallons of water annually off our roof. All our gutters come inside."

After the water is used in the ethanol fermenting process, it and the left over beet pulp will enter an anaerobic digester where bacteria will get to work. That produces methane which at first will be burned off in a flare, but eventually will power a generator.

The water will go through a dissolved-air filtration process to settle out solids that will become a soil mulch. The final steps for the waste water is reverse osmosis, then ozonation and ultraviolet light exposure.

"All the clients that we have that are waiting for our technology want this closed-loop, green technology that potentially, they could have a sale for their water," said Coles. "We will release water that is likely cleaner than they are drawing from a domestic well."

The Cornwall plant will be used to test improvements and tweaks to the plant franchise, train client staff and collect data on the process.

Coles claims that Atlantec's process will generate nine units of energy for every unit of energy used in the process.

"We are six times better than corn," he said. "We also make twice the volume of ethanol per acre than corn.

"I know there is a food versus fuel debate, or there was, but I think it is more food and fuel. There has to be a place for both. You have to give farmers crops they can make some money on and you have to be environmentally friendly on that."

The company extracts the sugar in a new way, different from the present systems, and ferments it in a way that differs from corn and wheat ethanol systems, said Coles.

At present Atlantec has clients in waiting and hopes to start installing its first plants in six-months time.

Dale Conroy of Stantec Consulting Ltd. spoke for the environmental impact statement.

"Our overall conclusion based on mitigation and the whole process they have outlined and that we have assessed, we have determined that there is not going to be any significant residual environmental effects," said Conroy.

The public has an opportunity to comment further until Dec. 28 by contacting the P.E.I. Department of Environment. Then it will be in the hands of Minister Janice Sherry to issue a permit, or not.

Organizations: Stantec Consulting, PEI Department

Geographic location: Cornwall, Cornwall Business Park, North America

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Recent comments

  • Robot Gizz
    December 20, 2012 - 06:46

    Do these guys not watch the news?Or think anyone else does?IF this was profitable,it would have been done long and ever ago by someone closer to the market,closer to LARGE volumes of needed raw product,and by a group that KNOWs about fuel!!! Just smoke and mirrors to steal from the already crippled tax payer.All so Robert and his buddies can brag that they have the biggest moonshine still this side of the border. Watch this whole thing just"go away"like the tax dollar funding that went into it!!

  • numbers please
    December 19, 2012 - 19:07

    So how much of OUR TAX MONEY that we send to Ottawa and Charlottetown every April 30th went into this biofuel plant? Why did Atlantec not go to a private bank like Scotiabank, RBC, CIBC, TD, etc. ?

    December 19, 2012 - 16:22

    This is a big moonshine plant. They have no markets. It was delusional to fund them. At least the boys pulled it together for the public open house. They have not done too much real work there over the last several months And inquiring minds are begining to focus on them. Why the heck would the governments be funding ethanol plants?????? On PEI? Pretty delusional. Anything they can possibly do the Irvings can out do in a breath. Kudos for cleaning the place up anyways guys. Shows some spirit.

  • ben
    December 19, 2012 - 11:53

    What I want to know if how much are the taxpyers of PEI sinking into this project????? With Janice Sherry and Stantecx involved I am not very confident that my interet will be looked after, --- but of course with GOVERNMENT that will their soul to the highest bidder, confidence is a uselss work anyway, ---

  • don
    December 19, 2012 - 11:32

    well if sherry has anything to do with it in her dept i'll not buy the she has ok the plan b and look at the damage so far abnd more to come.

  • intobed
    December 19, 2012 - 10:56

    I heard these beets are genetically modified to produce more sugar, and that to grow them takes even more pesticides and chemical fertilizers than the same sized field of potatoes. If this is the case, growing these sugar beets will certainly have negative environmental effects.