A pilot plant that turns old grease, lard and canola oil into gas and diesel was so successful that a University of Alberta spin-off company will soon begin commercializing the product.
Forge Hydrocarbons will use the patented process, which was de-signed by U of A researcher David Bressler, to turn the renewable feedstocks into “drop-in fuel” without the expensive process and 50 million years it takes to create fossil fuel.
The new fuel could replace ethanol and biodiesel, which require special handling.
“We’re making a little biorefinery here. We can make all the different cuts, just like a barrel of oil would be,” Bressler said after the announcement of the scaled up process, which will produce 200 to 400 million litres of fuel a year.
Bressler, a former oilsands scientist, used his knowledge of the energy industry to turn used oil and grease into an environmentally friendly and inexpensive fuel additive.
The triglycerides in fats and oils look similar to energy hydrocarbon but with an acid group attached. Using the right combination of high temperature and pressure, Bressler has found a way to remove the acid group and break down the long molecular chain created from the fat and oil into solvent, gasoline, diesel and jet fuel.
“We’re able to use very ugly oil. We don’t just have to use nice clean canola oil. We can use brown greases or tall oil from the forestry sector,” he said.
“I think we can undercut the price quite severely of biodiesel and create a better, superior product. I believe we could absorb all the fats and oils that are produced globally that aren’t going into the food system. We love that kind of stuff. It’s ugly and no one can use it, and it’s cheap.”
Bressler said one forestry company estimates that directing tall oil to an on-site refinery can cut its diesel fuel use in half.
He said 1.5 billion gallons of brown grease from restaurants is disposed of in landfills every year.
“This is a highly scalable technology,” he said.
“It’s a highly renewable fuel, but it still has the high value chemical sides to it. At the same time, we’re not in a food versus fuel versus feed debate. We don’t need to use those seed stocks. That being said, if there was a bad year and there was off spec canola, we could do something with it. We would be happy to take it.”
Bressler began his work in 2003, and was perfecting the process by 2006. He has focused on scaling up production in the last two years.
Bressler confirmed that Forge Hydrocarbons is talking about licensing the technology with one of Canada’s largest ethanol producers, one of Canada’s largest biodiesel producers, the largest U.S. biodiesel producer and several multinational energy companies.
However, he said he couldn’t identify the companies.
“It’s a bit of a bidding war. It is pretty cool. We’re moving down that path pretty quickly now. Basically we’ve been quiet till yesterday. This is a 10 year overnight success.”
Forge Hydrocarbons president Tim Haig, left Biox, an Ontario based biodiesel facility, to join forces with Bressler to bring the technology to production.
Bressler said they envision a series of smaller plants with the capability of producing 20 to 40 million litres of product. Some facilities would have several plants in parallel, depending on the scale required.
He hopes the new company will begin commercial production by the end of next year.