A California company will probably be the first user of the catalytic
technology that was developed for a future ethanol plant at Nipawin.
Fulcrum BioEnergy recently announced plans to build a commercial-scale
plant that will use municipal solid waste to produce ethanol.
Construction of the plant, to be located just outside Reno in Storey
County, Nevada is set to start towards the end of the year. The plant
will use the licensed proprietary technology for converting synthetic
gas to ethanol that was developed through an initiative between the
Nipawin Biomass Ethanol New Generation Co-operative Ltd. (NBEC) and the
Saskatchewan Research Council.
Sherry Michalyca, economic development officer for the Town of Nipawin
and member of the NBEC board of directors, said the plant would be an
important validation of the technology.
"That plant there will almost be like our pilot plant that will prove
our technology," she said. "And for those that would be investing in
our plant there will already be one plant in existence using our
The technology makes it possible to produce ethanol from agricultural
and forestry waste materials such as flax straw, sawdust and logging
slash. As part of phase two of the commercialization process, the NBEC
signed a letter of understanding with Fulcrum towards the end of last
year. According to Michalyca the arrangement with Fulcrum was the
result of shared goals.
"They want to do the same thing we’re doing, but they want to make ethanol out of garbage," she said.
As a result, a process demonstration unit will be built in the United
States to further test the catalyst. Michalyca said the three month
design process for the demonstration unit is basically completed. After
a three months construction period, testing will take place for six
"I would say by late next spring we should have some results from the demonstration unit," she said.
The results from these tests will be of benefit to Fulcrum when their
Nevada plant becomes operational in early 2010. At the same time the
findings will be crucial to the decisions to be taken about the
development of a biomass ethanol plant at Nipawin.
"We need to know those results for our plant here," Michalyca
emphasized. "The demonstration unit will test the life of the catalyst,
which is an important part of our capital costs of our plant."
In the meantime planning for the entire process is still on track.
Michalyca said they need to raise between $800,000 and $1 million
locally as part of their contribution to the approximately $3.5 million
cost of phase two of the commercialization process.
Last year the NBEC entered into a conditional sales agreement with the
Rural Municipality of Nipawin for two parcels of land. The 119.90 acres
of land is located south of Nipawin between the CPR line and the
Codette Lake reservoir. The conditions for the sale of the land to the
NBEC include a successful environmental assessment and the finalization
of capital funding for the project. Michalyca said the details of the
environmental assessment are being completed.
After their initial feedstock analysis, the NBEC is now also looking at
formalizing contracts for feedstock such as wood waste or flax straw.
In addition, there is still the potential to license the technology to
other companies that are looking for this type of catalytic reaction.
"We have an eight year jump on them," Michalyca said. "The whole world
is now talking about second-generation biofuels and we’ve been working
at this for several years."
It has been a long process since the Nipawin Economic Development
Committee came up with the idea of an ethanol plant in 1999. But
Michalyca is satisfied with the steady and determined progress of the
"Every year we’ve come further," she said. "This is not something
that’s been done before and we want to make sure that it’s done right
and that we’re successful."