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Practitioner Profile: Dynamotive: Building Biochar Technologies and Markets

Dynamotive Energy Systems Corporation is a small but dynamic publicly-traded Canadian company led by former oil trader Andrew Kingston. Kingston’s vision over the last decade as the CEO was to produce renewable energy from waste biomass rather than from food crops. With his grounding in the oil business, he realized early on that a robust distributed supply chain would be integral to the company’s success.

The company’s search for under-utilized waste led them to Erie Flooring and Wood Products, in West Lorne, Ontario, where piles of hardwood sawdust and wood chips could provide the ideal feedstock for Dynamotive’s patented fast pyrolysis process. Today, Dynamotive’s West Lorne pyrolysis plant has the capacity to process about 130 metric tons of dry biomass per day. The yield from the fast pyrolysis process of sawdust is about 70% bio-oil, 20% biochar and 10% syngas, which is recycled to provide fuel for the burner to heat the pyrolysis reactor. 

Dynamotive has built another plant in nearby Guelph with a 200 ton per day biomass capacity—which is still relatively small in comparison to competing biofuel technologies using cellulosic feedstocks. According to Dynamotive executives, one of the advantages of the fast pyrolysis technology is that it can economically produce a liquid fuel in a smaller sized facility than would be needed to produce cellulosic ethanol. Economies of scale require that cellulosic ethanol plants be able to process 3,000 to 5,000 tons of biomass per day. However, the economics of transporting widely dispersed biomass feedstock to processing plants favor smaller, more localized facilities. For this reason alone, fast pyrolysis may turn out to be a better bet for liquid biofuels than cellulosic ethanol.

Dynamotive’s BioOil® is positioned in the market as a replacement for fuel oils used in stationary applications like boilers and kilns to produce building or process heat. BioOil can be furthered upgraded based on a breakthrough by Dynamotive’s research and development team, headed by Dr. Desmond Radlein. Dynamotive welcomed the recent news that an independent analysis of their upgraded BioOil (UBB) confirmed that it indeed has produced gasoline, jet, and diesel fuel in its bench-scale reactor. Dynamotive expects that it can now "deliver advanced (second generation) fuels from biomass at a cost of less than $2 per gallon of ethanol-equivalent fuel in facilities processing about 70,000 tonnes of biomass per annum."

BIOCHAR MARKETS

Dynamotive was one of the first bioenergy companies to recognize the importance of biochar. The company was one of eight sponsors of the First International Agrichar Initiative (IBI before its name change) Conference held in New South Wales, Australia in 2007. Dr. Desmond Radlein presented “The Role of Agrichar in the Commercialization of Dynamotive’s Fast Pyrolysis Process” at that conference, describing the need to turn the char byproduct from fast pyrolysis into a commercially viable product.

Dr. Radlein has also explained how he believes biochar could enhance sustainable production of biofuels. In an interview in Biomass Magazine (June, 2007) he said: “Since we are in the renewable energy business, producing a liquid fuel from biomass, then a product that can be used to enhance biomass productivity is obviously of interest…If one were to envision an energy plantation scenario, where you are growing biomass specifically to convert to useful energy, then you could imagine the char being put back into the soil to enhance productivity. So it is a natural fit.”

Dynamotive has done its part to develop the market for biochar by stepping up and providing biochar to researchers at a time when the material has been hard to come by. Some of the research groups supplied include the USDA Agricultural Research Service (investigating soil enhancement properties for several climates/soils/crops) with Dr. David Laird; the Flux Farm Foundation in Colorado (investigating soil enhancement for pastureland) with Morgan Williams; the University of Idaho (enhancement of forest soils) with Dr. Mark Coleman; and Fleming College in Ontario (wastewater cleanup) with Dr. Brent Wootton. Dynamotive has also supported its own field trials such as the one conducted with Blue Leaf, Inc. (see the Blue Leaf Practitioner Profile).

Dynamotive continues to provide its CQuest™ Biochar for sale and sampling for research purposes. Chief Operating Officer, Thomas Bouchard, said: “Since our West Lorne BioOil plant upgrade was completed in early 2008, we have produced approximately 200 metric tons of CQuest Biochar which is a strategic by-product of our fast pyrolysis process. We have sampled and sold it to many different customers and partners for all kinds of potentially interesting applications.”

While Dynamotive has only provided CQuest to locations in North America so far, Bouchard said that it is possible to ship overseas. Biochar is defined as Class 4.2 “flammable solid” so it must be transported by land/sea. CQuest is typically packaged in steel, sealed drums each containing about 120 lbs of product. Bouchard asks that inquiries including interest in field trials and/or purchases for all end use applications are directed to him at Thomas.Bouchard@dynamotive.com.
 
For more information on Dynamotive, please see www.dynamotive.com