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Plans advancing for Sarnia sugar from farm bio-mass manufacturer

 

Andrew Richard, founder of Comet Biorefining, speaks with a visitor at a demonstration of corn stover collection and baling equipment the Cellulosic Sugar Producers Cooperative held in November near Forest. Comet Biorefining has announced completion of a round of equity financing for a plant it plans to build in Sarnia to turn corn stalks and leaves, and wheat straw, into sugar for industrial uses. (File photo)

 

Comet Biorefining has begun detailed design work for a manufacturing plant it plans to build in Sarnia to turn corn stalks and leaves, as well as wheat straw, into sugar for industrial uses.

 

CEO Rich Troyer said the company's move into the detailed design phase follows this week's announcement that Comet has completed a round of equity financing led by new investor, PM Equity Parnership, the corporate venture and private equity investment arm of Philip Morris International.

 

Bioindustrial Innovation Canada (BIC) and Sofinnova Partners also participated.

The terms of the financing were not disclosed.

 

Troyer said Comet remains on schedule to bring a commercial sugar plant on line in 2018 at the TransAlta Site in Sarnia. It is expected to be able to produce 27 million kilograms (60 million pounds) of dextrose sugar annually.

 

“We are now working, locally, with partners to design the plant,” he said.

 

“Part of the detailed design work will have a refined timetable, but from all appearances it's still on track.”

 

Sarnia-based Bioindustrial Innovation Canada is a government-funded non-profit agency that helps companies develop renewable and bio-based technologies.

 

“We're very excited to have BIC involved in Comet as an investor,” Troyer said.

 

“They've been an important partner for us, as we have advanced our project in Sarnia. They've provided a lot of resources and a lot of guidance.”

 

Comet's decision to locate its first commercial-scale manufacturing operation in Sarnia came after Bioindustrial Innovation Canada, along with its partners in agriculture and industry, went looking for opportunities to turn crop residue into sugar for industrial use.

 

That led BIC to Comet, based at the Stiller Centre in the Western University Research Park in London, a company with the type of technology the group was looking for, as well as an ability move to commercial scale production within a few years.

 

Comet says its cellulosic sugar is cost and quality-competitive with products made from corn and sugarcane, but doesn't impact food production.

 

“We're very excited to lock in that relationship more formally with an investment from BIC, and we're looking forward to working with them as we advance the project and build the plant in Sarnia,” Troyer said.

 

“BIC's recent investment allows us to continue to support Comet Biorefining's mission to integrate regional agricultural based supply chains with innovative new technology partners and enable Sarnia-Lambton to become a leader in the development of sustainable, bio-based products,” BIC executive director Sandy Marshall said in a news release.

 

The new found of equity financing will be used to advance commercialization of Comet's sugar production platform and fund construction of the company's projection facility in Sarnia.

 

“This equity financing will be an important source of capital, going into the project,” Troyer said.

 

Last year, federally-funded Sustainable Development Technology announced just over $10.8 million for the Comet project.

 

Comet Biorefining is also partnering with the newly formed Cellulosic Sugar Producers Cooperative, which launched a campaign to sign up farmers as investors and suppliers for the plant.

 

“We're encouraged by the farmer sign-ups we're seeing, so far,” Troyer said.

 

Jay Cunningham, business development manager for the co-op, said the campaign continues.

 

“I'm signing up new producers every week,” he said.

 

“We're moving along at a good pace.

 

Co-op officials are planning to attending next week's London farm show, and last November held demonstration days and town hall meetings around the region.

 

Farmers are being asked to invest in the co-op which is working to supply 75,000 tonnes of corn stalks and leaves, and wheat straw, expected to be needed to feed the new plant.

 

As well as being paid for the corn stover and wheat straw they supply, co-op members will receive a share of proceeds from the manufacturing site.

 

Josko Bobanovic, with Paris-based venture capital firm Sofinnova Partners, said it is looking forward to supporting the Comet management team as it develops the company and its technology.

 

“Comet's project is now well-positioned to enable profitable productions of truly commercial quantities of second-generation sugars and co-products for bio-based applications,” Bobanovic said.

 

pmorden@postmedia.com

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