BioRefinex wins U.S. patent
The technology behind a proposed multimillion-dollar plant that would process organic waste in Lacombe has been granted United States patent protection.
Erik Schmidt, president of Ponoka-based Biosphere Technologies Inc., developed a system that converts material like livestock byproducts into nutrients for fertilizer, and biogas for power generation. It also destroys pathogens, including the organisms responsible for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) and chronic wasting disease (CWD).
Known as the BioRefinex process, it involves thermal hydrolysis and fractionation. The former uses high-pressure and high-temperature steam to break down tissue into its molecular components, and the latter relies on centrifugal separation to obtain fatty acids, amino acids and digestible minerals.
Schmidt has been working on the technology for years, and hopes to see a commercial-scale plant in Lacombe demonstrating the process.
“The challenge is everyone says, ‘Hey, it looks great, but we want to see a plant running.’ ”
A separate, broadly-owned company, BioRefinex Canada Inc., would own and operate the facility.
In June 2011, Climate Change and Emissions Management Corp. — a non-profit organization that administers fees from large Alberta greenhouse gas emitters — pledged $10 million for the plant. At that time, the project’s cost was estimated at between $30 million and $35 million, so more money is needed.
Schmidt said the U.S. patent should help with efforts to raise that capital.
“If you don’t have an innovation you can protect, you don’t have much value,” he explained.
Patents have also been issued in Japan, Australia and South Africa, with others pending in Europe, Asia, South America and Canada.
The BioRefinex process has also been adopted by member countries of the World Organization for Animal Health as an acceptable method for destroying infectious microbiological pathogens, and certified by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency as a way to process specified risk material — cattle parts like brains and spinal cords where BSE-causing agents are more likely to exist.
Livestock producers currently pay for the disposal of specified risk material, which must be incinerated or landfilled. The BioRefinex process would instead turn this material, as well as municipal and industrial food waste, into products with market value.
In addition to this economic benefit, and the fact the process eliminates disease-causing agents, Schmidt believes his system could improve the global food system. With the world’s population growing, it’s essential that we minimize waste and work to enhance the productivity of farmland, he said.
“I think in time, probably in the future, they’re going to say we cannot destroy any organic waste. We’ve got to recycle it all, because we’ve got to get it back into the nutrient cycle.”
Despite a lengthy regulatory approval process, Schmidt hopes the plant will be operational by 2014.