Ethanol-Friendly Manitoba

Shell scouts commercial-scale cellulosic opportunities
By Kris Bevill | December 12, 2011

Royal Dutch Shell plc is in the early stages of a development project that would site a commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant in southern Manitoba. “It’s very, very, very early in the development,” says Jeff Gabert, senior communications representative for Shell Canada Ltd. The Solstice Cellulosic Ethanol project would use approximately 350 metric tons of (primarily wheat) straw per day to produce about 40 MMly (approximately 10 MMgy) of cellulosic ethanol using technology developed by Ottawa-based Iogen Corp.

Shell has been an Iogen investor since 2002 and has contributed millions of dollars to the companies’ joint venture, Iogen Energy, to commercialize cellulosic ethanol technology. Iogen’s enzymatic hydrolysis approach has been used to produce cellulosic ethanol from various feedstocks at its demonstration-scale facility in Ottawa for six years, producing a cumulative total of more than 475,000 gallons of ethanol to date, according to the company. “Iogen has been very consistent in its technology,” Gabert says, adding that Shell has been blending Iogen’s ethanol into its gasoline for some time. “The technology has worked,” he says. “It’s time to scale up to a commercial plant.”

Shell’s first location choice for the Solstice project is Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, a city of about 12,000 people located about an hour’s drive west of Winnipeg, Manitoba’s capital and largest city. According to Gabert, Portage’s abundant supply of available feedstock and proximity to main roadways makes it an ideal location for the plant. In fact, some farmers in the area have already signed up to supply straw. “Everybody right now is getting excited, but we want to manage those expectations,” he says. The company has begun the process of completing an environmental assessment, but there’s “no ink wet” on the paperwork yet, so the process is far from being complete.

An alternative site has been scouted closer to Winnipeg, but Gabert says Shell is very focused on Portage la Prairie currently. In general, Manitoba is appealing because it is encouraging of industrial growth and provides a good selection of skilled laborers, he says. Shell became actively involved in Brazilian ethanol production earlier this year, but the company is not ruling out expansions to other countries, including the U.S. “Depending on this project, there is always opportunity elsewhere,” Gabert says. “There is a lot to be said in how this project goes or doesn’t go.” —Kris Bevill