Ξ August 17th, 2008 | → 1 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, Interviews, Technology, Wine News, Wineries |
StormFisher is a new, progressive, privately held biogas producer based in Ontario, Canada. The company came to my attention while doing research on how best to save grape pomace, the major waste product of the wine industry, from landfills. I read in Biofuels Canada that last year StormFisher had teamed up with Inniskillin Niagra to take 1000 to 2000 tons of their grape pomace for use in the production of energy in one of StormFisher’s first three biogas plants in Ontario, Canada coming on-line in 2009.
First a bit of background. Biogas is produced by the anaerobic digestion of organic waste products from farm and agricultural concerns, even municipal sewage, the principle sources. The waste is placed into containers appropriately named ‘digesters’ and a rich mixture of microbes feed in the oxygen-free environment, and ultimately produce, after the removal of CO2, ammonia and hydrogen sulfide, commercial-grade methane. Sound familiar? In the words of Ryan Little, StormFisher’s VP of Business Developement,
“[B]asically the same process  occurs in an animal’s stomach…. What’s great about it is that it is very low-intensity, requiring basically a bit of heat that is generated by the process itself, and aside from that letting nature and gravity do the heavy lifting.”
And the end-product of biogas generation itself can be used as organic compost and fertilizer, (the price for which is soaring). Very simple, very clean.
According to StormFisher’s website there are currently 5000 biogas plants operating in Europe. Fully 17% of Germany’s electricity will be so generated by 2010. So the technology is proven and well established. Indeed, one of the more progressive aspects of biogas is its distinct advantage over increasingly controversial biofuels. Again, Mr. Little from a Canadian Business interview,
“Biogas is composed primarily of methane, which is essentially the same as natural gas. It is generated from a low-impact process called anaerobic digestion — the same process your stomach uses to derive energy from food. There is very little energy required to digest. We only use by-products as our feedstock, so that means we take the processing leftovers from fruit and vegetable canneries, commercial bakeries, meat packers, and so on. This stuff was never going to be used as food. Biofuel generally implies a feedstock, say corn or switchgrass, that is grown for the purpose of creating energy and is converted into a fuel through a process that requires lots of energy itself as well as a fair amount of water.”
Now, with respect to Inniskillin Niagra, a visit to their vineyards page suggests acreage under cultivation in excess of 400 total. One to two thousand tons of pomace hints at a maximum waste yield. Compare Inniskillin’s acreage to that of E&J Gallo. Though my information is somewhat dated it is safe to say Gallo owns, at a minimum, one hundred times Inniskillin’s holdings, and this is in California alone. E&J Gallo is but one of many Cali wineries with substantial acreage. Constellation Brands, which owns Inniskillin through its Vincor subsidiary, also controls substantial acreage in Cali.
A question comes to mind: how much of California’s wine industry grape pomace waste goes to landfills, where decomposition contributes to greenhouse gas emission, and how much is used for biogas energy production?
Under state mandate here in California, Pacific Gas and Electric must, by 2010, derive 20% of its electricity from renewable sources. They have been studying and/or implementing solar, wind, tidal, geothermal and biogas projects across the state. Currently a full 13% of the electricity PG&E delivers comes from the aforementioned renewables.
Further, from Joseph Gallo’s website, “PG&E is partnering with Joseph Gallo Farms, Microgy and other digester companies on a program that will result in gas produced from dairy manure being processed and delivered into PG&E’s gas transmission pipelines for delivery to power generators as a renewable energy resource.”
So I asked Mr. Little a few questions about the general requirements for a Biogas plant. The following Q&A was conducted via e-mail over a period of three days.
Admin How did you folks come by the name ‘StormFisher’?
Ryan Little Around the time of inception, mid 2006, people thought we were crazy trying to do what we were doing. Our now President, Bas van Berkel and I would joke that the best time to catch a fish is when it looks at its worst outside…pouring rain, thunder, no one else out there. When it’s sunny, that’s when everyone wants to be out there but the fish aren’t biting anymore. It was an entrepreneurial metaphor that we captured as our name.
What is the minimal tonnage of organic by-products required to justify a biogas plant?
RL It all depends of course, but for us we look at quantities of at least 100,000 tonnes per year.
My understanding is that Inniskillin Wines will supply 1000 to 2000 tonnes of pomace for biogas production. But inasmuch as wine-making is seasonal there must be multiple sources of organic by-products to supply a biogas plant year round. How does that inform the selection of a plant site?
RL We can only build a plant when the majority of the feedstock is year-round. That means we couldn’t work strictly with wineries to fuel our plants. The ’staple diet’ of our plants is by-products from meat and bakery production.
What is the ‘average’ biogas facility’s footprint? Are they scalable?
RL The average footprint for us is about 10 acres. Plants are scalable and we always build with expansion in mind.
What preexisting local infrastructure is required?
RL We need access to hydro lines or the natural gas pipeline, and municipal water discharge in many cases. Good roads are essential and a rail spur is a bonus.
With respect to Inniskillin, do they deliver the organic material to your plant or is it picked up?
RL We generally run all our logistics through partnerships we’ve made with a number of hauling companies.
How does an organic byproducts producer receive compensation?
RL Benefits to the organics producers we work with are all or some of the following, depending on the circumstances: cost savings, increased environmental stewardship and increased reliability of by-product disposal.
What level of technical education is required to operate a biogas plant? How many people might be employed?
RL A typical biogas plant will have 6 or more direct employees. The level of education for the operating team requires a basic technical education through to an engineering degree, depending on the role.
Does StormFisher have an interest in building plants in California?
RL California has a lot of food processors and large farms. Combined with a major need for energy, particularly from renewable sources, and California is a great place to develop plants.
As a final note, StormFisher earlier this year teamed up with the Ontario Association of Food Banks (OAFB) to launch what is called Plan Zero. An excellent video presentation of its goals may be seen here.
To a question about any other socially progressive innovations on StormFisher’s horizon Ryan Little said,
“As we get closer to operating day in several locations we want to focus on local involvement, and also in making our plants as environmentally progressive as possible. That means green roofs on top of the plants on which we hope to grow produce, integration with other forms of renewables like geothermal and solar, etc.”
I further encourage California wineries to explore the links above. The social and environmental benefits combined with the positive positive publicity sure to follow upon the use of their grape pomace for energy generation makes biogas production a no-brainer. Can’t you just see it? On a wine bottle’s label one might someday read, “The grapes crushed for this wine power your home”.
Many thanks to Ryan Little of StormFisher for his prompt attention and patience.