Co-op Formed to Help Establish Sarnia Processing Plant
Sarnia Observer (November 21, 2016) -- A plan to build a sugar beet processing facility in Sarnia to supply sugar for biochemical producers has taken a step forward with the recent forming of the Ontario Innovative Sugarbeet Processors Cooperative.
It followed a recently completed techno-economic modelling study identifying value-added products and business scenarios where a beet-based sugar value chain could be established economically in southern Ontario.
That work was carried out by the Ontario Sugarbeet Growers' Association and its partners, the Sarnia-based Bio-Industrial Process Centre at Lambton College and the Western Sarnia-Lambton Research Park.
The newly formed co-op has now launched a project through Sarnia-based Bioindustrial Innovation Canada to assess the opportunity for commercial production of sugar beet sugar for use in biochemical manufacturing, and develop a business model for a beet-based sugar value chain.
"This has been a long-held dream for a number of sugar beet growers in the area, including myself," said Sarnia's Mark Lumley, president of the co-op and chairperson of the growers’ association.
"If this study is a success, it will mean the return of a viable, vibrant and profitable sugar beet industry once again, bringing millions of new dollars into southwestern Ontario agricultural communities, and ultimately across Canada."
Ontario was a major grower of sugar beets for several decades until the last processing plant, located in Chatham, closed in the late 1960s and the industry all but disappeared in the province.
It returned, in a small way, in the mid-1990s when the grower-owned Michigan Sugar Company signed up growers in Lambton County and Chatham-Kent to help supply its plant in Croswell, Mich.
In recent years, those Ontario growers have been looking for additional markets and opportunities to expand the number of acres of sugar beets produced in the province.
Those potential opportunities include establishing a farmer-owned processing facility to supply bio-chemical manufacturers who use sugar as a feedstock.
BioAmber, a Montreal-based company, recently built a plant in Sarnia to make the building-block chemical succinic acid from corn sugar, and London-based Comet Biorefining is planning a Sarnia facility to extract sugar from corn stalks and leaves, as well as wheat stalks, for use in biochemicals.
Lumley said the techno-economic feasibility study showed "very favourable results, so we stepped it up a notch."
That earlier study identified business scenarios where sugar beets could be grown, harvested and processed in Ontario with the products and co-products used for food, feed and industrial biochemical markets.
As the new study continues, the cooperative plans to approach farmers in the coming months about committing to being part of a grower-owned processing facility in Sarnia, he said.
It's expected a commitment 30,000 acres of sugar beets will be need to supply that project.
"I'm pretty sure there will be pretty quick uptake on that," Lumley said.
To control shipping costs, the co-op would seek out growers in Lambton, Huron and Middlesex counties, as well as Chatham-Kent for a Sarnia facility that could be built and operating by 2020, he said.
If successful, the model could be used in other parts of Canada.
"Intuitively, it has always been promising when you think about the amount of energy sugar beets can produce off an acre of farmland," Lumley said.
“They do it all over the world, so why wouldn't we do it here again?”
- Paul Morden, Sarnia Observer