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StormFisher partners with Inniskillin: Grape waste sought-after fuel for making electricity

Grape waste sought-after fuel for making electricity

March 4, 2008  By Jim Meyers

Moderate wine consumption has been documented to have beneficial health effects, but who’d have thought that drinking wine could help save the planet?

StormFisher Biogas’ facility will be using grape pomace, the pulpy remains of the annual grape crush, to help fuel anaerobic digesters being constructed across Ontario.

Moderate wine consumption has been documented to have beneficial health effects, but who’d have thought that drinking wine could help save the planet?

Organic grape waste, along with other agricultural waste, is being sought by a new private electrical generating company in Ontario to be used as a fuel for its anaerobic digesters. The waste will be used to make methane gas that can then be used to power electrical generators.

Until now pomace – the pulpy remains of the grape crush – and mark – left after the grapes have been pressed – has ended up in either municipal landfill sites or piled on vineyard headlands to be used by growers as a soil builder. The goop has a new home as a sought-after fuel for up to six anaerobic digesters StormFisher Biogas says it will be building in Ontario during the next two years. 

One digester is to be built next year (2009) on Lake Erie near Port Colborne on land the company had not yet acquired as of the end of November 2007. Earlier that month, Inniskillin Wines announced that StormFisher plans to take some 2,000 tonnes of pomace a year starting with the 2009 grape crush. The grape waste would be used at the Port Colborne plant.

StormFisher Biogas, with an office in Toronto, announced at the same time that it is putting other digesters in London and Drayton, located northwest of Guelph, during 2009 and four more in eastern Ontario by the end of 2010. Each plant is expected to digest 120,000 tonnes of organic waste each year and generate 2.5 megawatts of electricity, roughly enough to supply 2,500 homes a year.

Up to 13,500-tonne potential
Until now, Inniskillin and many other wineries have paid to dispose of the waste pomace in municipal landfill sites. That’s a practice that’s bothered senior winemaker Bruce Nicholson, who had been looking for a more environmentally
acceptable way to dispose of the byproduct. He was contacted by a representative from
StormFisher at a trade show a year ago.

“If we all do a little bit, it adds up,” Nicholson said, adding that Inniskillin wants to lead by example on this project. 
Depending on the variety, he said, the waste grape stems and skins represent as much as 20 to 30 per cent of a tonne of wine grapes. Based on last year’s 45,000-tonne harvest of Ontario grapes bought by wineries, that’s between 9,000 and 13,500 tonnes of pomace.

Nicholson said pomace generates methane gas that’s 20 times more harmful to the environment than carbon dioxide. “That’s a significant amount of environmental savings and I hope that all wineries in Niagara get on board,” he said.
It’s been a longstanding practice by some growers to use the waste as a “soil amendment” to improve the organic quality of gravel soils or to lighten heavier clay soils, says Ken Slingerland, grape and tender fruit specialist with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and based at Vineland Station. 

Professor Helen Fisher, with the Department of Plant Agriculture at the University of Guelph, added there’s little nitrogen value left in pomace after it’s gone through decomposition.

Besides being a fuel source for electrical generators, the methane gas that’s produced as the pomace decomposes has other industrial applications and can be further refined to make natural gas. The anaerobic digesters cannot run on pomace alone and prefer a varied diet of organic material, such as slaughterhouse scraps, manure, and spent distiller’s grain from making ethanol gas from corn. Another possible large-scale source of organic agricultural waste is the CanGro canning plant in St. Davids in Niagara.

‘SOP’ makes digesters possible
Ryan Little, vice-president of business development with StormFisher Biomas, said his company can’t make money on making electricity alone and is looking for a neighbouring company that could use the heat generated in the process. As well, the composted organic waste can be made into a “green” fertilizer for the environmentally conscious home gardener.

“It’s 97 per cent free of pathogens once it’s gone through the digester,” he said.

Since pomace is a seasonal product, there should be enough to share with growers who may want it, he added. Pomace rates higher than farm manure, but lower than slaughterhouse waste, as an energy source.

“A year ago, you would have to search far and wide for someone who would tell you that you could make money with biogas in Canada,” said Little. “Now they are looking to finance us.”

An incentive program by the Ontario Power Authority to buy privately produced electrical power for the provincial grid has made the project feasible at this time. 

Called SOP (Standard Offer Program), the Ontario government’s incentive program is a “sop” to private contractors who are paid to produce electricity, given a generous grant to develop new technology, and access to venture capital funding. There are also federal government programs though Natural Resources Canada to develop renewable energy sources.

The catch is private renewable energy projects other than waterpower must be in operation within three years of signing a Power Purchase Agreement with Hydro One and any green energy certificates are held by the province.

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