Top Crop Manager

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Wheat shorts long on potential for energy

New markets for previously considered waste.

November 13, 2007  By Top Crop Manager

34aOntario growers interested in finding new markets for byproducts and crop residues
may have a friend in Mark Hayhoe. As president and owner of newly formed K2
Milling in Tottenham, Ontario, northwest of Toronto, Hayhoe is something of
a pioneer when it comes to establishing markets for materials that previously
have held little value.

Since March 2006, Hayhoe has been part of a pilot project with Hayhoe Mills
Limited, now owned by New Life Mills of Hanover, Ontario, and Ontario Power
Generation and its coal fired plant at Nanticoke, Ontario. The plant has been
under considerable scrutiny for its pollution, yet the project that Hayhoe is
involved in, blending wheat shorts with coal, has gone virtually unnoticed.
The initial success of this initiative has moved from simply unloading a truck
and blowing it directly into the furnace to the recent construction of two storage
bins that hold roughly 100 tonnes.

In 1996, when most of the province was dealing with a fusarium-ravaged wheat
crop, Hayhoe was sowing the seeds of a new market. "Initially, it looked
like we were going to be able to extract the white flour, but the bran would
be too contaminated for even animal feed," details Hayhoe. "But I
knew there was value there; it wasn't something I was going to pay to get rid
of in a landfill. So we had a load of wheat shorts pelletized and I put a wood
pellet stove in my office, just to prove it'd work and of course, it did."

He adds that he might have pursued that idea further, however, North Americans
were not as environmentally sensitive then, and Hayhoe had the business of running
a mill, as well. Today, there is a defined market for wheat shorts, the main
byproduct of the milling process, along with wheat and other cereal straws.
In addition to food markets, there are industrial applications, including blending
with plastics and an opportunity to burn it in a slow-burning furnace.

Europe leading the charge
Hayhoe researched his plan looking at energy generation in Europe where wood
pellets, cereal straws and oat hulls are used in varying forms. Then in June
2005, he visited the Nanticoke plant with a bag of wheat bran and sold them
on the idea of using wheat shorts. "To their credit, they didn't just say,
'We'll look at that some day', they actually did," says Hayhoe, noting
that from June '05 to early 2006, there were more meetings and tours of the
family mill in Woodbridge. "We helped them develop an understanding of
the capacity we had and filled them in on the capacity of other mills in Ontario."

From there, technicians at Nanticoke tested a load in March 2006 and were happy
with the combustion. "But they were surprised with how much more the toxic
emissions went down than the percentage of the actual wheat bran in there, so
you got a lot more bang for your buck," says Hayhoe. "If you put it
in at 10 percent, it results in reductions of much more than 10 percent reduction
in nitrous oxide and sulphur dioxide emissions, and lower mercury emissions,
which really caught their attention."

Bottom line: market for byproducts
Added to those results is the fact this is an annually renewable source of energy
and it could turn the $650 million spent annually to import coal back to the
economy of rural Ontario.

Would it have an impact at the grower level? "Yes, for all of agriculture,
from top to bottom," says Hayhoe, pointing to the ethanol industry and
its effect of 'raising the bar' for corn first and for other commodities since.
"Why not go to the largest coal plant in North America and ask them to
use this fuel? It's a great opportunity to show North America, because Europe's
already along the path and we don't need the government to give us anything
but time."

Despite initial concerns that Canadian agriculture might not be able to meet
the same supply of coal for Nanticoke, Hayhoe concedes it might take some time.
"Today, if they said, 'We want to be going 100 percent biofuel', no, we
couldn't do it," he says. "Twelve months from now, it could be done.
It would have to come from out west initially, but as we grow more fuel crops
which have higher yields, that won't need to happen. With a fast-growing grass
that can be harvested twice a year, that's baled, chopped and fed into the furnace,
it can."

Down the road, Hayhoe believes smaller power plants will be built to service
local communities, a trend he has been seeing in flour mills, which he says
have become too large in recent years. "I'm in Tottenham and there will
probably be a power plant that powers this town and Beeton to the northeast,
and it will run off locally grown crops."


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