Lafarge and Performance Plants Explore 'Energy Farm' Concept

Performance Plants

Biofuels Canada - October 2008 issue

"Creating a local source of fuel in a province with limited fossil fuel supplies, [would] provide additional economic activity in the area around the plant," Cumming said.

Lafarge North America Inc., the country's largest cement manufacturer and Performance Plants Inc., a Kingston, Ontario-based biotechnology company, have announced plans to grow and develop clean energy biomass grasses and woods for use as fuel at the Lafarge cement plant in Bath, Ontario. The project follows Lafarge's ongoing commitment to reduce its carbon footprint by 20 per cent between 1990 and 2010 through the use of renewable and local fuel alternatives.

The "energy farm" will be situated on 200 hectares of land on the Lafarge property, which could increase to 3,200 hectares of surrounding marginal farmland owned by private land owners if needed. PPI, who specializes in gene trait technologies and weatherproofing crops from drought and heat, will supply the enhanced seeds for the project.

The companies plan to use perennial and annual grasses such as switchgrass, sorghum and maize and intend to plant fast-growing trees such as poplar and willow. Industrial hemp will also be tested for cofiring and processing suitability. From there, the crops will be harvested, dried and converted into pellets used to fuel the plant's cement kiln. "[Our biggest challenge is] the cost of producing dry biomass pellets year-round [which] must compete with commodity coal," said Kevin Gellatly, vice president of alliances at PPI. "Carbon taxes and penalties will reduce the cost differential but PPI must improve efficiencies while providing profits for farmers and others along the value chain."

Lafarge and PPI are also working with local farmer Mike MacKinnon of Miller Seeds, the University of Guelph and Queen's University in Ontario to develop the four-year project. The University of Guelph's Kemptville campus will provide the expertise on conducting field trials to assess improved crop varieties. Queen's University will research biomass processing such as pelletization, and will work with Lafarge to ensure that the crops yield the maximum amount of carbon to reach its fuel potential. To do so, the company will spend approximately $250,000 on new equipment that will enable its kiln to burn biofuels.

Currently, the plant uses nearly 100,000 tonnes to 120,000 tonnes of coal to produce cement each year. Lafarge hopes that switching to biofuels will enable the plant to reduce its fossil fuel use by 30 per cent beginning next fall. "A 30 per cent cofire rate would be approximately 126 tonnes per day of biomass fuel. On an annual basis, that would be 44,000 tonnes per year," Gellatly said.

"Much of this has never been done and we'll be learning as we go," said Robert Cumming, environmental and public affairs manager at Lafarge. "For this to work on a large scale, a new infrastructure is needed and we hope that this type of development project will spur the investment to make that happen." The first crops for the project were planted in late May on a 25-acre plot of land north of the Lafarge property. The company expects to conduct its first trial use next fall.

© 2008 BBI International