Standing in a wind-swept cornfield south of Bothwell, Andrew Richard can see the potential for a greener future.
The chairperson and founder of Comet BioRefining was one of about 75 people at Chuck Beresich’s Johnston Road farm, watching corn stalks being harvested and made into large bales. The corn stalks will be the feedstock for a $70 million plant slated to open in Sarnia in 2018. Richard and a group of scientists began developing the technology to turn corn stalks into dextrose sugar for use in making biochemicals and fuels.
After years of work, and securing a $10.9 million federal grant, Richard and his team are in the final stages of engineering the plant. He expects construction to begin in 2017.
Now, Comet BioRefining is trying to secure its feedstock. And it has a partner in the Cellulosic Sugar Producers Cooperative.
Cooperative Executive Director Jay Cunningham is recruiting farmers within a 100-kilometer radius of the Sarnia plant not just to supply the corn stalks but to be part owners in the plant.
The cooperative is looking for farmers to put up a $20,000 stake. In the end, coop members will own about 30 per cent of the plant.
Campbell says that investment should be paid off within four years of the plant operating.
Campbell says the coop will own the equipment necessary to harvest the corn stalks and wheat straw. They’ll simply come to the farm, and take off what’s needed. “We want to take away the part of the corn stovers that’s been a management problem and leave the part that is good for the soil behind,” he says.
In all, the coop is looking for 55,000 acres from Sarnia to Tilbury in the area to supply 75,000 tonnes of bio mass in the form of corn or wheat straw over the course of a year.
Richard says farmers are intrigued by the idea and have been asking lots of questions during the public demonstrations in Forest and near Bothwell. He also plans public open houses to answer more in depth questions about how the process affects the land and how the material is used.
Richard is optimist local farmers will buy into the idea saying the response so far has been very good.
After years of research and development, Richard is more sure than ever that Lambton County is the perfect spot for the bio refinery.
“There is so much existing infrastructure in Sarnia, there is a skilled workforce and the local farm groups are supportive.
“We couldn’t find a better place for our plant because of the access we have to the land which is so productive that producers have to manage their stover. There are opportunities to ad value (by selling) stover that is already causing them a problem…
“All the elements are here and it is really exciting.”