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Biofuel research under study at new institute


London, ON – A new $5 million research facility focused on biofuel development has opened at the University of Western Ontario. The Institute for Chemicals and Fuels from Alternative Resources (ICFAR) celebrated its official opening on October 16.

Among other activities, the institute houses facilities to test next-generation biofuel technologies. Researchers are investigating a process called pyrolysis, which turns agricultural byproducts such as corn husks, into a solid called bio-char and bio-oil. These can be used to make eco-friendly fertilizers, fuels and chemicals, including environmentally friendly insecticides and pesticides. The institute is expected to house two new energy-related research chairs and provides workspace for visiting scientists and students from Canada and abroad.

The goal of the facility is to be a leader in the development of technologies and processes for the production of chemicals and fuels from alternative resources, with an emphasis on green engineering and environmental sustainability. The goal is to move research quickly from the lab bench to large demonstration projects.

One project currently underway is on behalf of Agri-Therm, a University of Western Ontario spin-off company that is in the early stages of bringing new biofuel technology to market. The company makes a patented, mobile pyrolysis unit, and has begun to market its technology. It has just completed its first sale, to the University of Veracruz in Mexico.

Within Ontario, the institute has also established ties with the Sarnia-Lambton Bioindustrial Innovation Centre. Created in 2007, the Sarnia centre is expected to attract over $1 billion in private sector investment, and support many new jobs in research and engineering.