Catalyst Power Inc.: Sometimes Too Good to be True Is Still True

If you’ve ever spent any time on a farm, you know how smelly they can be. In fact, the two most common complaints by people who live near farms are the odor, and issues related to surface water pollution. Farmers who spend their nights dreaming of a process that can clean the air, water and soil can stop dreaming. Chris Bush – president of Catalyst Power Inc. (CPI) in Abbotsford, British Columbia – has opened Catalyst One, Canada’s first bio-methane pipeline facility that recycles farm waste and creates pipeline quality renewable natural gas from a traditional family dairy farm.
The process, known as anaerobic digestion, is a biological process that produces a gas principally composed of methane (CH4) and carbon dioxide (CO2), otherwise known as biogas. These gases are produced from organic wastes, such as livestock manure, food processing waste, etc.
Anaerobic processes can occur naturally or in a controlled environment such as a biogas plant. The organic waste is put into an airtight container called a digester. Depending on the waste feedstock and the system design, biogas is typically 55- to 75-percent pure methane. State-of-the-art systems like Bush’s report producing biogas that is more than 95-percent pure methane after upgrading.
Bush isn’t confining himself to just the one facility, however. “We want to create a partnership with many farmers. We will design, build, own, operate and manage the digesters, while the farmers will be doing what they’ve been doing all along: farming. We’ll take on the new work, and we will all benefit together.”
Have a Cow, Man
Odors aside, farms across North America, are single-handedly the largest contributor to greenhouse gases. Cows and other ruminants, such as sheep and goats, are walking gas factories that take in fodder and put out methane and nitrous oxide, two greenhouse gases that are far more efficient at trapping heat than carbon dioxide.
It isn't just the gas they pass that makes livestock troublesome. A report from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization identified livestock as one of the top contributors to the world's most serious environmental problems, including water pollution and species loss. All told, livestock are responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse-gas emissions worldwide, according to the U.N.
Bush understands that that threat and relates why the bundled solutions represented by his facility are a big deal for Canada, “There are about 9,000 digesters in the world today on a scale like mine, but there are only 125 facilities in the world that produce biogas. The purpose of Catalyst One is to be a showcase plant. We’re not just building a digester; we’re building a fully Integrated Resource Recovery park. When fully operational, we make about 250,000 gigajoules of pipeline quality natural gas per year.”
The process isn’t a secret, and Bush is eager to share his knowledge with his fellow citizens, “I’ve been talking with officials from my local government about setting a Centre of Excellence here, so we can invite all of the local colleges and universities to come and study here. My strategic partners and I, we have too small of a window for us to be selfish. We need to share this process knowledge with as many people as possible, so that everyone can take it and run with it. The industry and the environment will be so much better. It just makes sense.”
Commercial Viability
The facility isn’t currently profitable, and Bush points out that British Columbia’s abundance of natural resources is his biggest challenge, “In Europe, energy producers get a very high price, 28 to 32 cents a kilowatt, for their energy. It costs me around 18 cents to make one kilowatt of electricity, and the market price is 5 to 7 cents. So, I’ve had to think outside of the box as to how we’re going to make this work, and so far I’ve identified about 14 different revenue streams that I’m currently pursuing.”
The ramification of a facility that removes manure and waste from farms and converts that waste into clean renewable energy source is huge. Bush explains why he feels biogas facilities should be getting even more publicity, “In Ontario, they have the FIT (Feed-in Tariff) program that promotes renewable electricity. My argument is that if you promote solar, wind, run of the river [hydro] and things like that, you just get electricity. Anaerobic digestion for agriculture gives you clean air, clean water, clean fuel, clean soil, it promotes agriculture and leaves you with a renewable clean energy source.”
Partnering with PlanET Biogas Solutions Inc. for design and service support and Greenlane Biogas for the upgrading, Catalyst Power Inc. has laid the groundwork to foster technological development turning waste to renewable resource on the Western Canada farmfront.