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Bioblending a path to growth

A Manitoba short line railway has been nationally 
recognized for its innovative solution to blending biodiesel

Central Manitoba Railway (CEMR) didn’t plan to get into biofuel blending — until it saw a good business opportunity headed the wrong way down the tracks.

“The railway is a mature business and we’re a short line with 120 miles of track, so where do we grow our business?” said CEMR’s assistant general manager, Sean Crick.

The answer to that question was transloading fuel and blending in biodiesel so that Manitoba fuel suppliers could comply with new biofuel regulations. Changes to Manitoba’s Biofuels Act in 2010 meant all diesel fuel sold in the province would be required to contain 2.5 per cent biodiesel.

Fuel companies first looked to ship diesel fuel south of the border, where it would be blended to include 20 per cent biodiesel, before being shipped back to Manitoba where it would be reduced to a five per cent bioblend.

“When we heard the plan was to ship it down to the States, we said there has to be a way to do something,” Crick said. “We’re railroaders here, not bioblenders, but we did the math on what the cost would be to get the rail cars there and back… and pretty quickly we said we think we can do something here.”

CEMR commissioned a mobile blending unit (MBU) that could blend biofuel into diesel fuel at any location.

“It has the ability to blend with a precision of .02 per cent,” he said. “That’s pretty good.”

The $250,000 machine has two sides to it, one for diesel and one for biofuel as well as a mixer. But the steam punk-esque apparatus is also versatile and can inject or add up to 20 different additives to products being transloaded.

The process also moves quickly, with liquids blended at a rate of 1,200 litres per minute. The unit can be attached to up to four fuel sources at any given time, while manufacturing a single homogeneous fuel.

“Creating the technology, processes and partnerships for enabling biodiesel blending was no small feat,” said Mac MacDonald, CEMR’s sales and business development manager. “Existing fuel facilities were not designed or equipped to do the job, so new technology had to be created to allow us to quickly and precisely blend diesel and biodiesel together and get the final product back into the customer’s hands quickly.”

He added he was also pleased the new system will help lessen transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions in Manitoba.

The Railway Association of Canada (RAC) was also impressed with the project. The organization awarded CEMR its 2012 Marketing Award, which recognizes short lines for their role in accelerating and increasing the flow of goods.

“In this particular case, CEMR had the flexibility and innovative capacity to solve a problem that otherwise would have resulted in significant modifications to existing fuel-processing operations and possible delays in meeting Manitoba’s biodiesel mandate,” said RAC president Michael Bourque. “While smaller in size, short line operators are often essential to solving big problems.”

CEMR now uses its transportation centre located six miles from Imperial Oil’s facility in Winnipeg as its blending location. Low-sulphur diesel is transported from Imperial Oil, while CEMR ships in biodiesel from the U.S. using Canadian Pacific Rail. Using only the liquid blending and distribution unit, tank cars and transloading track infrastructure, CEMR can mix the two fuel sources onsite without the use of expensive tanks, loading racks or piping systems.

The unit is so effective, that over the past two years CEMR has blended all of Imperial Oil’s summer diesel.

“We just saw an opportunity, and went with it,” said Crick.

About the author

Reporter

Shannon VanRaes is a journalist and photojournalist at the Manitoba Co-operator. She also writes a weekly urban affairs column for Metro Winnipeg, and has previously reported for the Winnipeg Sun, Outwords Magazine and the Portage Daily Graphic.

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