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Site Plans: New fuel plant slated to rise in the valley

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Troy Shantz

A B.C. firm has selected Sarnia’s chemical valley as the site of a planned $1.5 billion USD ($1.9 billion CDN) fuel plant, according to the company’s president.

“Some time ago, we selected Sarnia as the best place for us to look at building our first plant,” Michael Ainsworth of Ainsworth Energy Co. LTD. told The Journal. “There’s just so much infrastructure there in Sarnia; it’s a wonderful place to be looking at doing our first project.

“It would be pretty hard to replicate that anywhere else in Canada.”

Seventy acres (28.3 hectares) of land at Sarnia’s TransAlta site has already been approved for long-term occupancy for the project, according to a report provided to the City of Sarnia.

Project funding and site plans are being finalized, said Ainsworth, adding that the two-year construction of the 15,000 barrel-per-day facility could begin as early as next year. The plant will produce low-sulphur, high-octane fuel and provide dozens of permanent full-time jobs, Ainsworth added.

Environmental permits are being sought for the facility to be located at 1475 Vidal Street South, and Aamjiwnaang First Nation and Walpole Island First Nation have been consulted along the way, he said.

Ainsworth Energy has already invested about $8 million in planning at the site according to a report by Peter Hungerford, a consultant on the project and the city’s former director of economic development and corporate planning.

Seventy acres (28.3 hectares) of land at Sarnia’s TransAlta site has already been approved for long-term occupancy for the project. Troy Shantz

The company has been exploring renewable energy with their partners for years, Ainsworth explained, drawing on the family’s history in forestry which prompted research into utilizing lumber waste and byproducts for fuel.

But affordability and availability of natural gas led them in a “more conventional” direction in the last two decades, he said, eventually leading to a conversion process for creating a high-octane, low-sulphur fuel.

“I hesitate to call what we’re doing a refinery. What it is, is a conversion of natural gas to methanol, and then from methanol… to gasoline.”

And the fuel burns much cleaner, added Ainsworth, easily able to meet new fuel standards proposed by the Trudeau Liberals for 2022.

“Our emissions (at the plant) are largely CO2, and very little else. It has a nice relatively light footprint, considering what it is we’re doing,” said Ainsworth.

The product would be useful to refineries producing traditional fuels, and could be added without “significant capital costs in changing their refinery process,” allowing production that meets the new standards, Hungerford’s report noted.

“From a planning and economic development perspective, it helps to sustain the existing industrial base that we have in Sarnia,” Hungerford said.

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