It is sometimes interesting how something pops up one day, quite by happenstance and the next thing you know you see it popping up in other places.
An example happened to me recently. I was attending an event marking the local Louis Dreyfus Commodities canola plant at Yorkton shipping its 100th100-car train of canola meal.
When the plant was initially proposed, and being build, there had been talk of one day a biodiesel facility springing up next door, the process being a natural in terms of utilizing the canola oil.
That idea seems at best on the very backburner, if not simply dumped to file 13 for shredding.
Biodiesel production has always relied on subsidies to be viable, and in Canada there are simply no long term programs to make a company assume the risk on a large scale.
That said, the idea of biodiesel did seem to tie edible oils such as canola to the crude oil price, and that has dragged canola prices higher in terms of a low price. There is a threshold now where such oils could divert to biodiesel if the food market was to soften too much over too long a period.
So what of the ideal of biodiesel, and its cousin ethanol for fuel from cereal grains?
The question came up in a general office discussion following the LDC event - which was the second random occurrence of the topic. The need for alternate fuels remains real, but it is doubtful biodiesel and ethanol from edible crops is the best place to be investing research or large-scale development dollars.
The continued use of something which will long term be needed to feed a growing population would seem to be ill-advised.
I would not want to suggest a long term, viable alternative to fossil fuels, but I cannot think biodiesel from edible oils is more than a stop-gap answer, and even it costs the taxpayers to be financially sound at the current cost of crude oil.
So then I pop by the Western Producer website and find a story on new equipment which is targeted at the idea of biomass being procured and used to make fuels - the third connection to the topic in a matter of days.
The article reports the first of three projects opened last week, the Poet-DSM cellulosic corn stover plant at Emmetsburg, Iowa. The facility is expected to produce 20 million gallons annually.
"Dupont's 30 million gallon facility at Nevada, Iowa, is near completion, and the Spanish company Abengoa expects to be in production by year's end at Hugonton, Kansas," continued the article.
"Close to a million tonnes a year of biomass will be required at the facilities, according to company website."
A two-stage conversion is involved, with sugars produced from the biomass subsequently converted into ethanol.
The idea of biomass has greater potential since there are sources which are currently waste products, from corn stalks to the material left in forestry operations, to urban landfill.
To utilize waste in a manner to create energy is certainly more attractive than consuming food for the same purpose.