Biox moves company vision forward

By | October 13, 2006
In 1999, David Boocock, professor of chemical engineering at the University of Toronto, had a eureka moment and discovered an alternative method for refining vegetable oils and yellow greases into methyl esters with far less intensive energy inputs than was previously thought. Several years later, his discovery is the backbone of Biox Corporation, which is producing biodiesel at a full-scale facility in Hamilton, Ontario. The Biox process is the only commercial technology capable of converting high fatty acid feedstocks into biodiesel with one-to-one yields.

Scott Lewis, business development manager for Biox, told Biodiesel Magazine about the company's proprietary technology. "Everybody [else] takes methanol and adds it to tryglycerides, Lewis said. "You are able to put it in a base environment, but by doing that, those ingredients are phobic. Through the use of a cosolvent-in the proper setting-it makes those ingredients philic they bond. They go into a single phase, and it cracks off the glycerin."

Since April 2001, the company has operated a pilot plant in Oakville, Ontario, and it began building a commercial-scale production facility in Hamilton in 2004. The Hamilton site is extremely amenable to a biodiesel producer. "It's flexible from a feedstock point of view, and we have abundant access to feedstock producers, such as crushers," Lewis said. "There's a Bunge crush facility right up the street, as well as storage of tallow, and we have rail and marine shipping capabilities."

The logistical template for the successful operation of the biodiesel plant is designed to have the entire infrastructure on hand. "It's already on hand with everything from maintenance people to a significant labor pool, from the transportation logistics to the suppliers," Lewis said. "Everybody is there."

Biox worked with partners Lockerbie and Hole Contracting Ltd., and AMEC Engineering, which handled construction and design at both the pilot and commercial plants. "We look for partners that bring strategic benefits to the development of a project," Lewis said. "We're well-funded, and we are looking to build our own projects and operate them. We will do that with key strategic partners."

Birch Hill Equity Partners Inc., an investment firm based in Toronto, announced in August that it had made a $48 million investment in Biox. Alongside the Birch Hill transaction, existing shareholders of Biox invested an additional $22 million by way of cash and the conversion of outstanding corporate bonds for a total equity investment of $70 million.

With financial backing and a state-of-the-art site, Biox is a company with a bright future. "[The business model] is a revolutionary technology, and the potential size of the market is pretty compelling," Lewis said. "Goal one is to maximize operations, and plans for a public offering or anything like that are only going to come if the time is right. You look at the opportunity when it comes along, but we are not trying to force it or push it."
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