“The bioeconomy is an important piece of the puzzle in creating a more sustainable future”. To say it – in this exclusive interview with Il Bioeconomista – is Andrew Richard, founder, chairman and Chief Technology Officer of Comet Biorefining, a Canadian provider of sustainable cellulosic glucose technology for applications in renewable biofuels and biochemical. With Richard, who received his B.E.Sc. degree in Chemical and Biochemical Engineering from The University of Western Ontario in 1990, an M.B.A. from the Richard Ivey School of Business in 1993, we talk about his company and the bioeconomy in Canada.
Interview by Mario Bonaccorso
What is the bioeconomy from your point of view?
The bioeconomy is an important piece of the puzzle in creating a more sustainable future. It leverages innovations in the life sciences and bio-industries to replace the world’s existing petroleum-based products with materials derived from renewable, non-food, cellulosic biomass. Comet Biorefining has developed a novel process to convert non-food biomass into cellulosic dextrose, a valuable raw material for the bioeconomy that can be transformed into organic acids, amino acids and other raw materials for bioplastics.
How does your technology work? What are its main advantages?
Comet Biorefining uses a unique two-stage activation process to produce highly reactive cellulose that requires less post processing than comparative chemical approaches. This lowers production costs and results in high purity glucose.
In addition, Comet’s technology allows for production facilities with smaller footprints, resulting in lower capital cost and the ability to build these facilities closer to a greater number of biomass catchments, that are sometimes smaller and under less competitive price pressure. This in turn further reduces operating costs by decreasing feedstock transportation costs.
In February your company announced the location of its commercial scale biomass derived sugar facility in the Trans Alta Energy Park in Sarnia, Ontario. What are the next steps of your activity?
We have not formally announced our construction schedule. The plant will be operational in 2018.
The company has its demo commercial plant in Rotondella, Basilicata, Southern Italy. What brought you to Italy?
Comet Biorefining has demonstration plant is in Italy because in 2011 Comet entered into a partnership with ENEA – the Italian National Agency for New Technologies, Energy, and Sustainable Economic Development, to collaborate using their existing biomass conversion facility to run Comet’s glucose process.
America, Europe or Asia. Which is the best place to invest in bioeconomy?
Whilst some might say that Europe and the USA’s ambitious bioeconomy strategies make them good places to invest, Canada is also at the forefront as a recognized leader and provides a significant amount of support to promote the development of the bioeconomy.
Sarnia, Ontario, where the Comet project is located, benefits from supporting policies and grassroots initiatives focused on bio-based chemicals, as well being within a highly productive agricultural region with well-established transport networks. What is more, funding for innovative bio-based projects is available from organisations such as Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC), which recently awarded Comet Biorefining CA$10.9 for construction of its biomass sugar plant.
Is there a Canadian measure you could suggest to the European Union and the United States to support the bioeconomy?
There is a high degree of alignment amongst the Canadian governmental agencies supporting growth of the bioeconomy. Whether it be the agencies supporting the agricultural and forestry sectors, the technology and innovation programs such as SDTC, or the economic development efforts championed at the provincial level – each program has well defined goals and are very complementary. This is not to suggest that this does not happen elsewhere, but this degree of alignment is a significant advantage allowing companies to navigate funding and policy development opportunities.