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The biggest hurdle for biomass from dedicated fuel crops is that it isn't an economically viable option yet. We’re looking at ways of finding biomass fuels that are more affordable while we continue to work with our farming partners and support research to reduce production costs even further.

Lafarge biomass experiment a success

A recent experiment using biomass fuels to fire the kilns at the Lafarge cement plant in Bath was so encouraging, an energy consultant believes the facility could cut its use of fossil fuels completely by the end of the decade.

"By 2020, 100 per cent is doable," David Hyndman, who is helping to manage and provide technical support to Cement 2020, a Lafarge-based project that aims to reduce the plant's reliance on fossil fuels and that could eventually be implemented by the cement industry worldwide.

"The plan in the next few years is to be 30 per cent off coal. We'll learn from that, but there will be teething pains up front. Ultimately, we'd like to get to 100 per cent."

Hyndman, president of Hyndman and Associates Inc., a Kingston energy consulting firm, is encouraged by the results of the Energy Farm project trial conducted last fall at Lafarge.

The project used 500 metric tonnes of biomass crops grown by Loyalist Township farmers to heat the cement kilns, which are normally fired by 100,000 tonnes of coal and petroleum coke annually.

Hyndman said that during the one-week trial, the biofuels successfully replaced close to 15 per cent of the typical amount of coal required. He said project officials are still analyzing results, including air emissions, the way the kiln is run, and the actual cement product.

Cement 2020 is an extension of the Energy Farm project.

"It's a larger version of what we've already done to learn the potential wider range of fuel options," said Hyndman.

He said contact has been made with local farmers and wood suppliers to determine what other types of fuel might be available.

"A farmer might come to us and say, 'We can grow 4,000 acres of crops', " said Hyndman. "We're looking at the next level as far as supply goes."

The main biofuel used in the Energy Farm project was sorghum, which was complemented by maize (varieties of corn that don't go to seed), perl millet, switchgrass and oat hulls.

Cement 2020 has a number of objectives, said Hyndman.

"One of the goals is to take the information from the Lafarge plant and submit it to other partners (including researchers in Canada, the U.S., China and India)," he said. "We'll let them see what we've put together and how it applies to their situation.

"We'll take all the experiences gained and put together a standard set of guidelines for any cem e nt factory thinking along these lines."

Reducing the use of fossil fuels would translate into big savings for the province, which Hyndman said spends $1 billion a year to import coal for users such as Lafarge.

"Lafarge can go to the Ministry of Environment and say we've taken ourselves off coal by 30 per cent using green fuel," he said. "Here are the issues as far as processing and here's the timeline to get off of coal."

The ultimate goal, he said, is to generate economic benefits locally.

"Can you grow energy crops while supporting local farmers and logistical companies and all the spinoffs from that? Can jobs be spun off at a cost that makes sense and meets environmental targets?

"It goes hand in hand. Hopefully we're on a road in the right direction."

Hyndman acknowledges that there's no guarantee the plant will be 100 per cent fossil-fuel free by 2020, but anything that can be done to reduce the amount of coal burned helps.

"There's no silver bullet; we call it the silver buckshot," he said.

"We all believe anything is better than coal."

For more information on the project, visit www.cement2020.com , which includes Twitter updates from researchers and project partners.

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