“The window of opportunity is there but we are not moving fast enough,” said Dr. Patrice Mangin from Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières (UQTR).
“Even a mere portion of the way the Quebec government supports Hydro Quebec electricity would help tremendously,” Mangin argued during a Market Development Panel at BIOFOR.
The panel session focused on the review of emerging biorefinery technologies for the production of bio-crudes and renewable drop-in fuels, while discussing the challenges associated with scale-up and investment. The panel also touched on the state-of-the-art development methodologies for large-scale biorefineries and the role policy can play to speed the transition towards the bioeconomy.
Mangin used Europe as an example of countries who are meaningfully envisioning renewable fuel targets for 2030. Finland is the clear winner, with a 30% target. Even Italy is moving towards renewable fuels with a 19% target, and both countries have clearly established government mandates to move forward. Closer to home in North America, California is aiming at 18% by 2030. “But where is Canada? Where is Quebec? Our province has no mandate yet and a clear mandate equals market capability. We need a more aggressive approach from politicians,” claimed Mangin.
In an extensive study, Mangin analyzed 30 biorefinery projects. One succeeded; all others failed, demonstrating how difficult and risky the bioeconomy is. The financial risk is huge, and environmental impacts and social acceptance remain key issues. “There are 774,500 dry metric tons per year of biomass available and the source is guaranteed and renewable. We looked at 700 different technologies and we can move forward pretty fast in terms of capacity with, for example, a 495 000 odmt or 191M litres of renewable fuels drop-in quality with a yield of 31%.”
Jean Roberge, CEO of Greenfield Global, followed with a presentation on the Varennes, QC, biorefinery complex, where 200 million litres of fuel grade ethanol is produced from four different sources. The plant has been busily expanding and next month its capacity will increase by 120M litres/year. The company is also looking to implement a hydrogen production module and valorization of excess CO2 in RNG or green methanol.
“It’s all about synergies,” said Roberge, “and finding ways to capitalize on existing structures. And strategic alliances do not hurt.” Roberge echoed Mangin’s sentiment that government environmental objectives have to be more aggressive: improve energy efficiency by 15%, reduce fossil fuels consumption by 40%; increase by 25% renewable energy production and increase production of bioenergy by 50%!
As if the challenge wasn’t big enough, Roberge cautioned the real danger lurking is the shortage of qualified process engineers. “We need more talented and knowledgeable people to complement our actual team,” he noted.
When asked if having Hydro Quebec in the province was a plus or minus, Roberge candidly admitted that while Hydro is certainly a draw for business, the company was not easy to deal with.
A presentation by Virginie Chambost of EnVertis Inc. focused on how to launch a large-scale project in biotechnologies. For a forestry company, “project profitability is the key. Market risks and technology risks both have to be assessed and of course margins improvement. Forestry has a clear advantage when it comes to access to biomass and integration with existing pulp and paper operations,” she noted.
For its part, EnVertis considers projects depending on their investment level (level of risk), policies (subsidies), economics (overall process yields), company stakeholders and long range sustainability. “And even with subsidies, you have to look at a minimum necessary incentives,” Chambost said. Envertis has helped projects with proven technologies including Fischer-Tropsch, Syngas fermentation, hydrothermal liquefaction and fast pyrolysis.