Cornwall biofuel plant environmentally OK: report

Nigel Armstrong NArmstrong@TheGuardian.pe.ca
Published on December 19, 2012
Fermentation line in Corwall PEI facility.
Atlantec BioEnergy Corporation website

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.

SEE THE REPORT HERE

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.