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University of Alberta entrepreneur transforms waste into jet fuel

A made-in-Alberta success story is taking flight after a University of Alberta professor found a way to transform agriculture and forestry waste into jet fuel.

Dr. David Bressler is the project lead of FORGE Hydrocarbons.

He has studied the conversion of agricultural and forestry material into fuels, chemicals and materials for years. Nearly two decades of research and development helped the group create the project, focused on lipid conversion.

“So when animals go to slaughter, the waste components go to rendering where they separate and recover the fats,” Bressler explained. “That’s the target of what we’re looking at. It’s the lowest value and we get the highest bang for our buck converting that to reusable fuels.”

Bressler said the aviation industry is facing a challenge right now as it attempts to meet rising emission standards.

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“When you buy a Boeing 777 or another equivalent air bus, those planes have to stay in use for 30-35 years,” he said. “We need a solution for the ones that were just bought that can be sustainable and drop the carbon footprint over their life span.”

Bressler said they have found success using technologies that aren’t dissimilar from Alberta oil sands.

“High temperature, free-radical chemistries to break these fats and oils down to hydrocarbon fuels, but they have a much lower carbon footprint than traditional fuels and they are sustainable. They actually have better combustion values than the petroleum equivalent.”

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The professor said the company, based on his own research, provides a ready-made solution to decarbonize.

“Our commercial facility is being built in Sarnia, Ont. for generation one of the technology. We are in the process of scaling-up the technologies to build on that. We hope it comes online in the middle of next year.”

At its smallest, a traditional production facility of renewable fuels produces about 20 million liters per year. The largest facilities can produce 400 million liters a year.

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“That’s a lot of cattle or a lot of crops. It’s a big industry,” Bressler said.

He said he hopes plant two may find a home in Alberta.

“We have an army of grad students, post-docs and trainees that have contributed to two decades of work leading to where we are today,” he said.

Another important contributor to the project is the team at Alberta Innovates which looks to partner with researchers, small companies and large industry to develop within the province.

“We get exposed to different ideas and technologies. We are always in touch with researchers and industries that want to make a difference,” Alberta Innovates’ Mehr Nikoo said. “This line of development is really important to us because of the support it’s providing to different industries.”

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Nikoo said the organization helped the team’s research go from “what if?” to “what’s next?” with the help of grants, funding and networking opportunities.

As Forge continues to grow, Bressler said he hopes to keep the company tied to its roots.

“It’s truly a technology born out of Alberta, out of our history of research,” Bressler said.

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