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Corn+Soybean Digest

Biodiesel Ignites Up North

The smell of French fries is about ready to hit the road in Canada — as diesel exhaust smokes from millions of trucks and tractors.

The “friendly smell” results when biodiesel is blended into traditional diesel fuel. Biodiesel is manufactured from oil-rich crops like canola or soybeans; or animal fats.

In the next five years, Canadian fuels are targeted to contain 5% renewable fuel — ethanol for gasoline and biodiesel for diesel.

Canada consumes about 6 billion gallons of diesel. Five percent equals about 30 million gallons of biodiesel — about 10 times the current production.

Biodiesel has been hard to find. Any pump that offers it probably obtains it from the U.S.

Canada's first commercial scale biodiesel plant was commissioned in November 2005 in Montreal by Rothsay, the rendering division of Maple Leaf Foods. The new facility has capacity to produce 9.2 million gallons of biodiesel annually. Rothsay has pioneered a process at the plant, converting animal fats and recycled cooking oils into environmentally sustainable biodiesel, which can be used in all diesel engines without modification.

Rothsay biodiesel is available for commercial fleets but is not available at a retail level.

Canada's second commercial scale facility for biodiesel, BIOX Corporation Inc., at Oakville, Ontario, was scheduled to begin full production before September. Initial capacity is 15.8 million gallons.

“Our technology will convert any lipid base feedstock with free fatty acid content from zero to 30%,” says Scott Lewis, BIOX spokesperson.

The BIOX state-of-the-art plant meets international oil and gas standards. Feedstock can be tallow, soybeans, canola, palm oil and even used oil.

The market for biodiesel is going to grow “so significantly” that both animal and vegetable sources will benefit, Lewis says. “Farmers are going to have to grow more crops specifically for biodiesel to meet government demands for blending renewable fuels with fossil fuels.”

Distribution and confidence in the product are keys to the expansion.

For example, retailers must be confident the product they're pumping meets all warranty standards consistently. To achieve that, Lewis says, “Biodiesel refineries have to get significantly larger. They have to conform to international standards, and that isn't cheap.”

Distribution, he believes, should be left to large diesel distributors. BIOX, for instance, built its refinery in a nest of oil company distribution terminals and feedstock suppliers. The pure biodiesel from BIOX is only minutes from the doors of distributors. It's also adjacent to one of the largest soybean crushers in Canada.

“We're right in the middle of the industrial hub to produce and distribute this fuel through existing infrastructure,” Lewis says.

Western Canada has a few small operators with pilot plants starting to produce biodiesel. The most firmly established is Milligan Biotech, Foam Lake, Saskatchewan, a farmer-owned company. Milligan is ramping up a plant that will crush and process at least 35 tons of canola a day, the equivalent of 50-70 acres of canola production. Estimated annual production would be .5 million U.S. gallons.

One distinguishing feature is the cold pour point. Milligan Biotech fuel has a -15°C (5°F) pour point, compared to about -7°C (19.4°F) for soy-based biodiesel.

Milligan's has been in the market with canola-based fuel conditioner, penetrating oil and road dust suppressant for about four years.

McGregor notes that biodiesel does blend easily. “It will not separate or settle out.”

Benefits of B5 in the tank will offset a slight additional cost, he believes. “You gain back more in the benefits, like cleaner burning, better fuel economy, extended engine life, pumps and nozzles.”

McGregor also says quality and access to retail pumps is crucial in the long term for marketing success with biodiesel.

A former president of the Saskatchewan Canola Growers Association, McGregor says, “If we're going to survive at all on the farm, we can't just grow a raw product to be exported; we have to take it, add value and be part of that value-adding.”

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