The research results are due out next spring
Canada s biodiesel industry is in its infancy relative to global biofuel production, but it may be hastened along by the federal two per cent mandate on renewable content in diesel fuel and heating oil passed on July 1 of this year with compliance expected by December 31, 2012.
Economics will dictate how the biodiesel industry plays out, as well as whether the byproducts meal and glycerol go into industrial markets or for livestock feed, says Dr. Tim McAllister, principle research scientist with AAFC s Lethbridge Research Centre, where researchers are working in advance to determine the value of biodiesel byproducts in ruminant diets so the beef industry will be ready in the event that they become readily available.
Visiting scientist Dr. Emma McGeough looked at the potential of canola meal to lower methane production resulting from normal ruminant digestion, while PhD candidate Jorge Avila Stagno examined the potential of glycerol for the same purpose. The feeding phase of these studies wrapped up in late summer and data are now being compiled with the goal of publishing the results next spring.
Biodiesel is an oil product made from crushed oilseeds, animal fats and/ or recycled cooking oil (yellow grease) from the food-processing and food service sectors. It doesn t contain any petro components itself, but can readily be blended up to 20 per cent with diesel fuel and 50 per cent in heating and stove fuels.
According to the Canadian Renewable Fuels Association (CRFA), four of the 13 operational plants in Canada use canola seed or have the capacity to use canola seed as feedstock. They are located in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, with a demonstration facility using canola, camelina and mustard seed in Alberta. The remainder are largely yellow grease and multi-feedstock plants in Alberta, British Columbia and concentrated along the U.S. border in Ontario and Quebec. New multi-feedstock plants are under construction at Lethbridge and Sombra in Ontario.
The byproducts from plants that utilize oilseed are meal from the crush and glycerol from the biodieselmaking process. Glycerol is the sole byproduct from plants that use oil and fat feedstocks. McAllister says that both byproducts have potential to be used as an energy source to replace a portion of the barley grain or silage in backgrounding and finishing rations.
The properties of canola meal as a feed ingredient are well understood, however, its potential to reduce methane emissions is a new area of research.
The solvent-extraction method leaves about two per cent of the oil in the meal, whereas the meal from the screw-press method of extraction, which is often used when oilseeds are crushed for biodiesel production, contains 10 per cent or more residual oil. McGeough indicates that it is the higher oil content in the meal from the screw-press method that could reduce methane emissions from cattle.
Glycerol is what s left behind after the fatty acids are released from the feedstock for use as biodiesel. Glycerol is a thick, syrup-like product that literally runs slower than molasses in January, so there may be some practical considerations surrounding its use in feedlot diets, McAllister adds.
Based on the findings from earlier studies by Dr. Karen Beauchemin, a research scientist in ruminant nutrition at Lethbridge Research Centre, Stagno suspects that the digestibility of glycerol should be very high. It is a simple compound with three carbons that is very close to the chemistry of propionic acid, which is a three-carbon volatile fatty acid normally produced in the rumen that is important for the synthesis of glucose. If glycerol added to the diet and synthesized in the rumen results in an increase in the production of propionic acid, it could also reduce methane emissions because both propionic acid and methane require hydrogen in order to form in the rumen.
Feed-grade glycerol was substituted for up to 21 per cent of the barley in the diet for Stagno s study and McGeough substituted high-oil canola meal for barley to a level that resulted in five per cent oil in the diet. Early indications are that neither of the byproducts had an adverse effect on animal health, or feed efficiency. If these byproducts decrease methane emissions, feed efficiency should improve because the energy expelled as methane would instead be used for growth.
There are two challenges to the use of glycerol as a livestock feed, McAllister explains. It is not yet approved as a feed additive, so an application for its approval for this purpose would have to be made to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. As well, the glycerol from biodiesel production would have to be upgraded to feed-grade quality by removing the methanol added during the process of making biodiesel.
A glycerol-methanol mixture may be fine for industrial uses, but methanol is highly toxic to livestock, making the mixture unsuitable as a feed ingredient. Removing the methanol adds cost to the product, so economics will dictate whether biodiesel companies can get a better return for raw glycerol sold into industrial markets or glycerol upgraded for use as livestock feed.
The other economic variable is how much beef producers are willing to pay for it. In Western Canada, the value of byproduct feeds is usually related to the price and feed value of barley, so producers will need to know the value of glycerol as a feed, to see if it is an economically viable alternative.
At present McAllister says the limited supply of feed-grade glycerol is a major impediment to its use as a feed ingredient. Producers need to have sufficient supply of any ingredient on hand to avoid frequent changes in ration. Larger oilseed-based biodiesel plants will likely need to come online to supplement the existing glycerol stream, which is largely from recycled deep-fryer oil.
The high demand for the use of oil from oilseeds for human consumption and food preparation is another impediment to biodiesel production in Canada. The demand for canola oil is particularly strong due to its healthful fatty acid profile and unique properties for deep frying in the food-processing sector. This keeps farmer deliveries flowing into the food stream and prices top grades of canola out of reach for biodiesel production, which is often relegated to using lower grades of oilseeds. Soybean is also used as a feedstock and the potential for alternative oilseeds, such as camelina and mustard, are being explored.
Even so biodiesel production in Canada appears set to explode relative to the quantity produced today.
Many of the plants in operation today have capacity to produce small quantities from one to 10 million litres per year (mly), with a couple around 20 mly. The largest are the 45 mly Rothsay plant in Quebec, a division of Maple Leaf Foods, which produces biodiesel for the company s own transportation needs, and the BIOX Corp. multi-feedstock plant at Hamilton, Ont., producing 66 mly, with a second similar-sized plant proposed.
According to the CRFA another five plants are proposed, with the largest being oilseed and canola feedstock plants producing 265 mly at Lloydminster and 237 mly at Vegreville, Alberta. A proposed multi-feedstock plant at Sarnia, Ont., could produce 170 mly, while two in Quebec would produce 100 mly from vegetable oils at Becancour and 40 mly from multiple feedstocks at Richmond. The two plants currently under construction in Lethbridge and Sombra will have the capacity to produce 66 mly and 50 mly, respectively.
To keep posted on the latest developments in biodiesel production, visit the CRFA website at www.greenfuels.org.
The biodiesel plants themselves will be the best source of information regarding availability and pricing of the byproducts should they become readily available and glycerol receives approval as a livestock feed in Canada.
The results from the studies in progress at Lethbridge Research Centre will be carried in future issues of