Highmark Renewables receives 'Integrated bioRefinery' patent

By Holly Jessen | March 29, 2011

A company located in western Canada has received its sixth patent, this one for its Integrated bioRefinery, a trademarked name for its technology. “The patent speaks for itself, it says we are unique and first of its kind and so we are happy to enjoy that protection,” said Evan Chrapko, CEO of Highmark Renewables Research.

The Integrated bioRefinery starts with an anaerobic digester, which is then integrated with other bioproduction systems for ethanol, biodiesel or algae, plus other add-on options beyond that. One example of that is the recently expanded anaerobic digester in Vegreville, Alberta, a six-year-old biogas plant that will someday be linked with Growing Power Hairy Hill LP, a 40 MMly proposed wheat-to-ethanol plant. Highmark Renewables is also working with project developers in the U.S., South Africa, Mexico and China.

The patent is for the U.S. and South Africa and Highmark Renewables will continue seeking approval in additional countries, Chrapko said. It joins the family of inventions known as the Integrated Biomass Utilization System, or IMUS. Another ethanol-related patent is the company’s enhanced Ethanol Fermentation patent.

The Edmonton, Alberta, company got its start in 1999 as a technology company, he said. Since then it has added consulting, engineering, plant design and development partner to the list. Recently, the idea of starting up another consulting division has naturally evolved. “We jokingly call it doctor digester,” Chrapko said. “We are being called up to help rescue digesters that are not working.”

The anaerobic digester technology can utilize a variety of feedstocks from diverse sources, such as residential kitchen waste in cities with collection systems or slaughterhouse waste. “We’re not limited to agricultural waste, we can do municipal, human sewage or essentially anything that is organic matter,” he said. The result is a much-reduced carbon footprint. “When your energy source is waste, it’s pretty much a game changer on the outcome for how do you measure the grams of carbon equivalent per megajoule.”

An important part of the company’s work has been integrating the anaerobic digester with other bioproduction systems. It’s not as easy as simply connecting the power source to say, the ethanol plant, and calling it good. “You really have to pay a lot of attention to the heat and energy balances between the biogas and the ethanol plant,” he said. “We’re proud to say and pretty confident that we are the best in the world at economically putting those things together.”

This article first appeared in Ethanol Producer Magazine.