By Scott Foster, Ottawa Business Journal Staff
Mon, May 31, 2004 12:00 AM EST
Marcel Sbrollini, CEO of Robustion.
Fuelled by the activities of several bio-product companies in Ottawa and surrounding area, local biotech leaders are quietly preparing to unveil the region’s newest industry cluster.
Traditionally, Ottawa’s clustering phenomenon has been restricted to the telecom sector. But it’s about to engulf manufacturers and researchers in the “eco-industrial” space, involved in the production of alternative fuels such as bio-mass, bio-gas and bio-diesel.
The eco-industrial cluster could stretch as far west as Renfrew, south to Cardinal and east to Moose Creek. The Greenbelt Research Park on
could act as a nucleus, said Rainer Engelhardt, CEO of the Ottawa Biotechnology Incubation Centre.
Randy Goodfellow, CEO of BioProducts Canada, points to a dozen or more local companies that would make the proposed cluster a strong one. They include Iogen Corp., LaFleche Environmental Inc., Casco Inc., Ensyn Technologies Inc, Topia Energy Inc. and Robustion Technologies Inc.
While the cluster is still at the talking stage, industry heads are already envisioning the economic benefits it could create.
For example, bio-product companies often produce byproducts that could easily act as “feedstock” for other companies in the same space, said Goodfellow.
Mutually beneficial relationships could be formed if one company’s byproducts are passed on to another, he said. The donor of the byproducts could defray disposal costs, while the recipient could easily incorporate the materials into its operations, said Goodfellow.
LaFleche Environmental in Moose Creek, just east of Ottawa, is already exploring material-sharing arrangements with Topia and Ensyn, said Goodfellow.
Andre LaFleche, owner of LaFleche Environmental, operates a bioreactor at the landfill he owns in Moose Creek. Wood waste, or biomass, could be gathered from the site to provide companies such as Ensyn with feedstock, he said.
Ensyn specializes in a
biomass refining process to produce light liquid “bio-oil”, from which natural value-added chemicals and fuels are recovered. The company is currently building a manufacturing plant in Renfrew that will eventually turn wood waste into an adhesive solution that binds other products together, said Goodfellow.
Makers of bio-diesel, such as Topia, produce glycerol as a byproduct, which can be used as a feedstock by companies such as Ensyn, said Goodfellow. Glycerol can be converted such things as hydrogen and syn gas.
Across the road from his landfill, LaFleche hopes to build a bio-digestor for agricultural waste that will produce methane. That gas can be turned into electricity or thermal energy, which can accommodate a company’s energy needs, he said, adding the bio-digestor is expected to be operational in 2006 or 2007, once zoning issues are worked out. When complete, the site is expected to be an eco-industrial park.
LaFleche said he has already met with people from Ensyn and Topia who have expressed interest in the idea.
South of Ottawa, in Cardinal, Casco is processing corn into high-fructose sweeteners used in such products as Coca-Cola, said Goodfellow.
“There’s already discussions between various folks who see such byproducts as a starting point. Some of the spent grains are often used for livestock feed,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Greenbelt Research Farm on Woodroffe is home to the Ottawa Biotechnology Incubation Centre, which comprises companies that conduct ag-biotech research. Also on the farm site is Robustion Inc., a company that specializes in the combustion process and turns spent coffee grounds into fire logs.
Company officials rave about the Greenbelt site, saying it provides the perfect environment for larger-scale field
trials for products still under development.
This is partially due to the equipment left behind by Agriculture Canada’s Centre for Farm Animal Research, they say. The federal department vacated the land in the 1990s, leaving it to the National Capital Commission.
For Robustion, moving to the site was affordable since the necessary mixing, drying and conveyor equipment, including indoor and outdoor silos, was already there, says Marcel Sbrollini, the company’s chief executive.
For these reasons, the Greenbelt site could act as a good nucleus for a future eco-industrial cluster, said Engelhardt.
“To have that type of facility where you can maintain research livestock animals and large tracts of land to carry out field trials, it hardly exists anywhere else in North America.”
The local biotech industry could be doing a lot more to promote the eco-industrial cluster idea and put it into practice, said Engelhardt and Goodfellow.
“(Material-sharing) isn’t going on as much as it should be locally,” said Goodfellow. “I know there are various agreements that folks have about wanting to work together and trying to find ways to cooperate. But these things must still be tacked together to help it happen.”
What’s not being done well is the marketing of this “tremendous capacity” outside Canada, added Engelhardt.
He and others have broached the cluster subject to the province and there are positive signs from both Ontario and the federal government.
For example, in March the federal government released its innovation roadmap on bio-based feedstocks, fuels and industrial products. The roadmap is expected to be implemented in the fall and will hopefully give the relatively new industry the momentum it needs to thrive, said Goodfellow.
In the meantime, Robustion’s Sbrollini intends to get a better idea of who’s out there.
“We need to take the time to do this, find the synergies and have the resources to allocate toward those initiatives. For instance, we know of the OBIC partners and we’ve talked with them but we don’t have a solid idea of what we could do jointly.”