Biodiesel facility potentially rooting in East Central Alberta

Northern Eagle and New West Opportunities built their first in-use biodiesel plant in Southern Michigan, USA. East Central Alberta and Brandon, Manitoba are both prospect areas for a new facility. ECA Review/Submitted
Written by Terri Huxley

Northern Eagle and New West Opportunities built their first in-use biodiesel plant in Southern Michigan, USA. East Central Alberta and Brandon, Manitoba are both prospect areas for a new facility. ECA Review/Submitted

East Central Alberta is poised to be potentially the newest sight of a fully integrated (crush/refinery) biodiesel plant.

Now is a key time for the communities of Forestburg, Stettler and Youngstown to jump on this opportunity by showing their best selves in terms of friendliness, action towards potential investors and amenities as they ‘ranked highly’ as potential locations.

“That Hanna-Oyen-Youngstown area – they’ve been pretty good but Youngstown seems to really have a good relationship with the producers. Anyway we are in the midst of this logistics analysis right now for the Alberta region,” said New West Opportunity Inc.’s Senior Partner, Shane Pospisil.

He spoke of narrowing down the ‘plant bullseye’ and potential end user blending locations in terms of a 250 kilometre radius around the future community as they plan to have large quantities of low-grade feedstock to produce biodiesel which will be trucked in from the producers.

The company hopes to work directly with grain producers by creating longterm contract partnerships or through third-party licensed crop buyers in order to consolidate a feedstock source.

East Central Alberta has been chosen as one of two potential locations for the first Bison Gold biodiesel facility which will be equipped with a research and development lab.

Another project only separated by one province is also making headway.

Brandon, Manitoba is the other prospective spot.

The company has intentions of and has enough capital funding for both projects with the help of investors but is still determining which plant will be chosen as the first.

In Brandon, New West Opportunities representatives did over four days of consultations with farmers.

“We give them an overview of the technology, the production, the supply chain, sequencing in terms of how that works to produce ASTM certified biodiesel,” said Pospisil.

Term sheets have already been signed by 176 farmers in Manitoba. “Now I’d like to say the 176 [farmers] give us all the feedstock we need but in a good crop year some of those farmers may have all on-grade so we need to broaden a little bit to make sure we have it,” said Pospisil.

Depending on the market, different feedstocks are used but for Alberta, the main grain is canola while Manitoba will be focused on canola and soybeans.

Pospisil, Maria Perez, Senior Partner, Finance and Economics at New West Opportunities and Fund Manager, Renewables and Bio- Fuels at Northern Eagle Investment Partnership as well as Tanya-Mae Brown have already been spending time in the region, meeting with potential agricultural producers, municipal leaders and scoping out potential plant sites.

“East Central Alberta certainly has the canola feedstock availability we are looking for, including the off-grade volumes that our plant would be dependent upon,” began Perez.

“Our next new-build facility would be our 12th RFS2-certified (Renewal Fuel Standard 2) plant worldwide and where we either have a majority ownership, minority investor or operating partner stake.

“And the East Central Alberta region appears to have many of the essential competitive fundamentals we would be looking for in siting this $100-million full capitalized  project.

“Abundant feedstock, well-developed, efficient and innovative producer supply chains, excellent transportation and logistics infrastructure.

“And equally important – welcoming host communities and supply chain partners for this type of ‘Green Economy’ investment and the 22-28 direct, indirect and induced jobs which would accompany a plant of the size and scope we are looking at.”

This fully-integrated Crush and Biodiesel Refining Facility would produce 50 to 90-million litres per year with potential for growth as well as an expected 18 to 22 full-time positions, many of which Pospisil says will hold PHDs or other high achievements for plant operators, logistics and product quality and testing jobs.

Natural Resources Canada explains that biodiesel is made when the feedstock goes through a process called transesterification and consists of fatty acid methyl esters (FAME). Transesterification is a reaction between the oil or animal fat with an alcohol and a catalyst.

The chemical reaction of transesterification produces two products – glycerol and an ester called biodiesel.

Raw vegetable oil or animal fats which have not undergone a chemical/ refining process is not considered biodiesel and is not recommended for use in diesel engines.

Biodiesel is one common example of renewable diesel.

A common misconception around the use of biodiesel and its effectiveness stems from animal fats.

Biodiesel fuel containing animal lipids when used in winter climates causes problems but in Canada, they are zeroing in on plant-based oils to create the product which does not create issues when it comes to cold weather.

Reclamation is also an underlying theme to the company’s values.

An altruistic fund with a triple bottom line management dynamic is focused on the environment, finances and social impact.

Pospisil mentioned the Sheerness Mine’s transition from coal and how eventually this land may be reclaimed.

“There are some crops we could plant there that we would call energy crops. So there are a number of other oilseeds that wouldn’t really be planted for food-grade production but they would present some opportunities for us to plant something for energy use,” he said.

He mentioned they would prefer to use strictly off-grade feedstock as it “allows us to avoid competing with food supply.”

Once given approval, shovels may be in the ground as early as late 2020.


Terri Huxley

ECA Review

About the author

Terri Huxley

Terri grew up on a grain farm near Drumheller, Alberta with an eye for the beautiful and uncharted. Living in such a unique and diverse area has helped her become the photographer and reporter she is today.

Coming from the East Central region getting this newspaper on her dinner table growing up, it helped her understand the community she now serves.

In May 2019, Terri was awarded Alberta Weekly Newspaper Association (AWNA) Canada's Energy Citizens Photographic Awards Sports Action – First Place as well as first for the same sports action image nationally with the Canadian Community Newspaper Association (CCNA). Fast forward to 2020, she has won second in the same category for the AWNA.