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Imagine how much money you could save if you could heat your greenhouses with oil derived from sawdust. Great Lakes Greenhouse in Leamington, Ontario, tried it without much extra effort to convert its existing boilers, thanks to the resources and know-how of Dynamotive Energy Systems Corp., based in Vancouver, B.C.

Great Lakes Greenhouse, a 1.2-million-square-foot operation that grows seedless cucumbers, ran a four-hour combustion test, burning 2 tons of Dynamotive’s BioOil, a product made from forest and agricultural wastes. The operation, which normally uses Bunker C oil (No. 6 fuel oil), was able to burn the BioOil in its own boilers.

According to Andrew Kingston, president and CEO of Dynamotive, further testing will be conducted, but he says the result of the combustion test substituting BioOil for a fossil fuel was encouraging.

"During the testing, Dynamotive’s BioOil demonstrated very good ignition properties, steady flame characteristics and a low emissions profile," Kingston says.

Paul Dyck, owner of Great Lakes Greenhouse, says he was pleased with the process and the outcome.

"The BioOil was very easy to pump and it allowed a much wider combustion tolerance and stability than Bunker C Oil," he says. "Whereas Bunker C Oil would typically extinguish, BioOil did not. The BioOil burned without any problems."

However, despite the environmental benefits, Dyck says the current low volume and availability of BioOil is prohibitive to using it at Great Lakes Greenhouse, due to the operation’s size and dependence on a steady and reliable supply of energy. BioOil is a lower energy fuel, burning at approximately 50 percent of the heat content of fuel oil.

"I burn about 2 million gallons of heavy fuel a year now and I would need about 4 million gallons of BioOil," Dyck says. "We need to have a good, reliable supply. We don’t want to have to go on BioOil for a week and then have to go back on fuel oil, especially with the way oil prices have gone in the last few years."

Dyck says, however, that once there is an adequate supply of BioOil, he would consider replacing Bunker C oil entirely.

"If it was priced competitively, sure," he says. "This stuff is really interesting." 

Alternative Energy Solutions

Dynamotive has plans for rapid expansion and recently broke ground on a new plant in Guelph, Ontario, which will process 200 tons of biomass to produce approximately 140 tons of BioOil daily.

"We plan to expand and pursue many different markets," Kingston says. "Approximately 40 percent of fossil fuels that are used today are used industrially, including diesel, natural gas, fuel oil and coal. BioOil is a great, environmentally friendly industrial energy alternative."

Go Bio 

Dynamotive produces BioOil by converting organic waste or biomass through its patented fast pyrolysis process. BioOil is formed when cellulose-based plant material, like sawdust, bark, corn hulls and sugar cane bagasse, is exposed to very high temperatures in an oxygen-free environment. Pyrolysis is a cracking process in which the plant material is rapidly decomposed into many different compounds. When cooled to room temperature, they condense and form a single-phase liquid — BioOil.

The process creates zero waste because its products are BioOil and char, as well as non-condensable gases, which are used as energy to run the process — approximately 75 percent of the energy needed for pyrolysis.

For more information on BioOil, call 877-863-2268, e-mail or visit

Dynamotive sells BioOil at or below the price of conventional diesel on an equivalent energy basis.

The BioOil that was burned at Great Lakes Greenhouse was produced at Dynamotive’s West Lorne, Ontario plant. The plant is on location at a wood flooring company, using its sawdust to convert to BioOil.

"The BioOil fires a gas turbine, providing power to the sawmill," Kingston says. "We’re connected to the power grid, as well, so we are providing environmentally friendly power to the area."

The technology can be used anywhere there is biomass available and Dynamotive can partner with different businesses to license it. The business, in turn, can use or sell the fuel or sell the energy produced to the power grid. The key is having enough biomass, Kingston says.

"There is about a 70 percent yield of BioOil from biomass," he says. "It’s not economically viable to do this in small quantities. There are economies of scale as you go up."

Laura Drotleff is editor of Greenhouse Grower.

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