Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Guest Post: Daniel Bida and Ontario's Biogas Market

Daniel Bida is the founder of ReGenerate Biogas, a company created in in early 2009 to foster the development of community-owned anaerobic digestion for agriculture around Ontario. Daniel has kindly shared his thoughts on the progress of the Ontario biogas market with this post.

I’m currently reading Roger Martin’s The Design of Business – a business book examining the way organizations make use of and organize knowledge to drive growth and longevity.

Moving Down the Funnel

Knowledge, it says, moves through three phases as it goes down the funnel, from the general to the specific: Mystery –> Heuristic –> Algorithm. This got me thinking about what stage the Ontario biogas industry is in, and what stage I myself am in developing community-owned biogas plants.
Biogas Plant, Pucking, Upper Austria

At the mystery phase (which Ontario was in around 2005), there are lots of facts available, but making sense of the right ones to create value is more of a challenge.  Biogas companies at this time were mostly traveling to Europe to learn from companies and communities there, and trying to figure out the best sources and combinations of feedstock in the Ontario market. They were able to come away with some inspiring examples of success such as the pilot project in Pucking, Upper Austria, which supplies the existing natural gas grid with biogas upgraded to natural gas quality. Unfortunately, the myriad of government support programs offered in Europe for these innovations did not exist in Ontario at the time. Greatly adding to local mystery was (and is) the ever-changing regulatory market, which has caused many of us to re-examine our original assumptions and attack the market in a different way.

At the heuristic phase (which Ontario has been in since about 2007), some rules of thumb have been developed – helping the industry narrow down which farms are most suitable, which feedstocks and recipes are ideal, which digester technologies work best, what size plants are most suitable, how to handle complex feedstocks (curbside organics), how to work with local stakeholders, how to speed up permitting and approvals, and how to turn a profit (sometimes). We are relying on these early rules of thumb in an effort to increase efficiency, thereby growing our businesses and the industry.

At the algorithm phase, a highly scalable formula is established and replicated hundreds or thousands of times over, greatly increasing efficiency and the total number of biogas plants from the current number (less than 50) to its full potential (between 500 and 1,500). No firms have yet entered this phase I believe, but we are very close.  Knowledge and understanding of the technology is up. Investors and lenders are taking notice. Numerous projects are up and running, some successfully, some not – providing valuable lessons to developers. (can we highlight the Niagara project?)

Stopping the Flow

The major obstacle at this point is largely political.  We are faced with continued long-term uncertainty – even short-term certainty isn’t a given at this point. The best thing the provincial government can do in the Fall of 2011l (whoever they happen to be after the election), is to establish strong protocols and practices that can stand the test of time – and then sit back and watch as the Ontario biogas industry diverts organics from landfills, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, produces better than commercial grade fertilizer, generates  readily dispatchable renewable power, and provides direct financial support to farmers.


In addition to the services of ReGenerate, parties interested in learning more about biogas opportunities in Ontario can check with these organizations:

Thanks, Daniel!
~ Rob


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