Bio-refinery to create value from waste

After more than a decade of tests and trials in Ponoka and around the world, Biosphere Technologies Inc. is ready to build a $35-million bio-refinery that will turn infectious animal carcasses into valuable organic nutrients.

By George Brown

After more than a decade of tests and trials in Ponoka and around the world, Biosphere Technologies Inc. is ready to build a $35-million bio-refinery that will turn infectious animal carcasses into valuable organic nutrients.

Within the next few years, Biosphere Technologies, led by Ponoka businessman Dr. Erick Schmidt, plans to build a $35-million thermal hydrolysis plant in Lacombe. The project is expected to require two years for public consultations and permit approvals, financing, engineering and construction before it turns its first carcass into organic fertilizer or “liquid cow.”

The thermal hydrolysis “Biorefinex” process uses high temperature saturated steam and pressure to denature the infectious proteins and other micro-organic disease agents, resulting in safe, valuable organic nutrients. This two-hour process refines the raw materials into fatty acids, amino acids, minerals and other digestible elements. The technology provides an environmentally beneficial alternative for carcass and organic waste disposal compared to incineration, landfills or processing with alkaline chemicals that create serious disposal challenges.

“It’s being buried or composted now,” Schmidt said. “But that doesn’t destroy the prions. With this process, the prions are destroyed so they are no longer in our biosphere.

“Ponoka’s been involved in the material testing,” Schmidt said. “The disease testing was done in Edinburgh.”

The Roslin Institute, a world-renowned research organization in Edinburgh, Scotland, successfully completed a multi-year test of the Alberta technology designed to destroy BSE prions.

“We put energy into the water molecule, high pressure steam and split the water (H2O) molecule into HO and H molecules,” he explained “All diseases have a unique protein structure so if you want to knock out the disease you’ve got to break the proteins down.”

The question Schmidt and his team undertook was how to destroy infectious agents such as BSE, scrapie and chronic wasting disease without destroying the nutrients.

“We want to destroy all infectious agents but we want to save the nutrients and make them valuable and safe so they go back into the life cycle.”

This Biorefinex thermal hydrolysis process is now certified by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) as an alternative for processing of specified risk materials (SRM) and provides the advantages of both destroying the infectious proteins and creating valuable nutrient materials for industrial uses.

“This is unique technology in the world,” Schmidt said. Thermal hydrolysis technology is the safest validated process in the world that can destroy prions and transform risk organic materials into beneficial nutrient products.

Since Alberta’s BSE outbreak, animal carcasses cannot be ground into feed for ruminants in Canada so what was once a revenue stream for ranchers is now a cost for disposal. “We want to get some value back to the livestock industry by increasing the value of the carcass,” Schmidt said.

Biosphere Technologies will also hydrolyze municipal, commercial and household organic wet waste into feedstock for the production of biogas, co-generated power and thermal energy, Schmidt said. The liquid fertilizer has applications for organic hydroponics operations that cannot use chemical fertilizers.

The Lacombe Biorefinery will incorporate a Biorefinex commercial scale processing pavilion, anaerobic digestors, biogas co-generation systems, greenhouse and visitor galleries. A section of the plant will be designed for continuing research projects undertaken in collaboration with Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada, the Alberta Research Council, Olds College and the Brooks Crop Diversification Centre. These research activities would develop new value-added nutrient products from inedible animal by-products, with applications for organic food production, soil remediation and renewable energy from bio-methane.

Schmidt said the Lacombe’s Wolf Creek Industrial Park was chosen because of the proximity of the Lacombe Research Centre, meat processing plants in Lacombe and Innisfail and the availability of inedible animal by-products and carcasses from cattle, pork, elk, bison, poultry and horse operations.

Biosphere Technologies has patents issued in 18 industrial nations all facing similar organic and carcass waste problems, and is approved for use in the European Community countries.