February 26, 2016 - An industrial park in Sarnia has landed a sweet deal for a plant that will turn straw and cornstalks into a industrial sugar used to produce “green” plastics and chemicals.
Comet Biorefining, based at the Stiller Centre in the Western University Research Park, will build the biomass plant as its first big commercial project at the TransAlta Energy Park.
The plant will produce 27 million kilograms of dextrose sugar syrup annually from corn stalks and wheat straw from local farms.
Comet Biorefining CEO Andrew Richard said the dextrose sugar is a basic building block of bio-based chemicals and bioplastic that can be use for anything from car parts to packaging.
The plant has a double environmental benefit because it replaces bioplastics made from petrochemicals and does not use traditional food sources such as corn kernels, he said.
“This is part of a move from petroleum based to a bioeconomy. There’s an advantage in greenhouse gas reduction, and more rural and manufacturing jobs,” says Richard, a London native who studied chemical engineering at Western and earned an MBA from the Ivey School of Business.
The project has the backing of a group of investors and the company plans to have the plant operating by 2018, he said.
The company hasn’t determined the number of employees that will be hired, Richard said, but there will be spinoff jobs in agriculture and transport of the raw material.
Richard founded the company in 2009 with the aim of converting biomass such as agricultural and forestry waste into usable product.
Comet Biorefining demonstrated the technology at a partner facility in Europe. The Sarnia plant is the company’s first commercial venture.
The TransAlta plant was the best site for the plant because it provides a good infrastructure shared with other green energy plants, Richard said.
Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley says the city is steadily converting its old petrochemical base with a growing cluster of green energy and manufacturing plants.
“It goes from the factory gate to the farm gate and positions us very well with the cap and trade system to address climate change.”
The $120 -million BioAmber plant opened in August 2015. It converts corn into a synthetic acid used in a variety of consumer products.
The TransAlta Energy Park is on a 120-hectare site once occupied by the giant Dow Chemical complex, Bradley says. The new companies are smaller and have a different character, he said.
“I’d rather have 10 companies with 100 employees than one with a 1,000 employees.”