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Straw-bale biodiesel plant will leave small footprint.

Greater Sudbury -- Sudbury's future biodiesel facility will not only offer alternative fuel, but will represent an "alternative" building design that will benefit the environment and the business.

Presently, Topia Energy, the Ottawa-based company spear-heading the creation of the plant, is awaiting approval on the plant's federal Environmental Assessment (EA).

Company president Govindh Jayaraman says it is a long and detailed process and they have been "working very diligently to complete it."

Besides its intended production of 20 million litres of biodiesel annually, the construction of the building warrants consideration. Ben Polley of Harvest Homes, east of Guelph, will be the contractor to build the first large-scale straw bale commercial building in Canada.

Polley, who was one of the original co-founders of Topia Energy, branched off into his alternative homes business, which he has been practicing for seven years.

"It makes us veterans in the world of green (with) straw bale construction in Ontario," he says.

As the market for alternative housing grows, Polley has doubled his sales every year for six years running. In 2006, he anticipates the business will increase by about 50 per cent, with some projects being turned down. However, he is committed and looking forward to building the biodiesel plant in Sudbury.

Topia Energy is putting together the specifications and requirements for production. Collectively, with an engineer, a building with production ergonomics will be created.

The shell of the building will be comprised of prefabricated straw-bale walls.

"We determined that not only was it technically feasible, but feasible from a cost perspective," Polley says.

The walls are comprised of straw, an agricultural waste product with no commercial value, and covered with cement-lined plaster on the interior and exterior surfaces. They provide thermal mass with a high insulation value of R 40 as rated by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC). Conventional modern houses have an insulation value of R 21 and operate at R 13.

The mass of the walls will absorb heat and release it again, acting like a heat sink, which helps mitigate temperature fluctuations inside the building.

"Most commercial buildings aren't as concerned about construction and energy conservation, so it's unique that way," he says.

Other energy efficient features include radiant heat pipes in the floor of the facility, recognized as one of the most efficient means of distributing heat through a building. There will be a double advantage of drawing heat from a plant co-generator, which will run on biodiesel produced on-site.

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Polley says that initially construction costs will run higher for the two heating systems, "but there are environmental paybacks, energy paybacks and dollar paybacks in the end."

Another supplemental heat source they are considering are evacuated tube solar hot water collectors. Although an older technology, the copper-tube-and-fin collectors are ideal for northern climates. Inexpensive to run, they collect non-visible light wavelengths and convert them to electricity. The rate of return is three to five years.

The waste system in the facility will also be designed to take care of glycerin and "mineral-rich" water, two co-products from the production of biodiesel. Glycerin, which is found in shampoos, conditioners and cosmetic products, to name a few, has numerous uses, and will be resold.

The long-term hope is to use the mineral-rich water for a future neighbouring greenhouse facility However, in the meantime, consideration will be given to constructing an artificial wetland outside the building to clean the wash water and take care of the human waste, too.

Lastly, Polley says they want to make it "human healthy," with natural day lighting in all working areas.

Once business is rolling, Topia Energy's goal is to use as many locally harvested materials as possible in supplying enough biodiesel to sustain the area as it shifts to more environmentally and economically renewable fuel sources.

www.topiaenergy.com

www.everdale.org

By ADELLE LARMOUR

Northern Ontario Business
COPYRIGHT 2006 Laurentian Business Publishing, Inc.
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Copyright 2006, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:SPECIAL REPORT: CONSTRUCTION
Author:Larmour, Adelle
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Date:May 1, 2006
Words:644
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