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Lactose to reduce the ecological footprint of boats

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The solution developed by the CRBM could make it possible to replace approximately 10% of Quebec's annual consumption of heavy fuel oil.

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A team of researchers from Rimouski is working to design a biofuel intended for maritime transport. It is made with surplus lactose from the dairy industry.

The project was born in 2019 from a discussion between Agropur, one of the leading manufacturers of dairy products in North America, and the team from the Center for Research on Marine Biotechnologies (CRBM). The objective: to find an avenue for valorizing ultrafiltration permeate.

Ultrafiltration makes it possible to concentrate fats and proteins, which are particularly popular for the manufacture of products such as cheese or yogurt. The operation allows a liquid made of water, minerals and lactose to pass through the pores of a membrane, which is, in fact, a sugar.

Currently, it is less valued. As a result, it is used primarily for animal feed, explains the principal scientist for Agropur, Gabriel Remondetto.

Lactose is mainly used in the pork industry. However, there is too much supply for demand, which has caused the commercial value of lactose to fall. The dairy industry therefore sells it at a loss, hence the idea of ​​finding a new economically viable use.

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One of the mandates of the Marine Biotechnology Research Center in Rimouski is precisely to promote industrial co-products. We are working to identify different co-products, available in Quebec in particular, to identify the volumes available and what we could do with these industrial residues, says the researcher in industrial microbiology, Jean-Michel Girard.

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Jean-Michel Girard, researcher in industrial microbiology at the Marine Biotechnology Research Center, the CRBM

The idea of ​​biofuel was born during his doctorate, carried out between 2010 and 2014. My objective was to identify new sources of microalgal biomass for the biofuel industry, he recalls.

Five years later, the dairy industry's lactose surplus allowed him to put his idea into practice.

The elaborate process is carried out in two distinct stages. The lactose first stays in the dark, in a bioreactor where microalgae are added. For 62 hours, the algae will consume the sugars contained in the liquid, just as yeast would do, to convert it into a lipid-rich biomass.

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The biomass obtained after the lactose has remained in the bioreactor in the presence of microalgae.

This biomass is then shipped to Innofibre in Trois-Rivières, a college center for technology transfer and CRBM collaborator. They will be responsible for the second stage, which is to convert this oleaginous biomass, rich in oil, into biocrude, indicates Jean-Michel Girard.

The Biocrude is a substance similar to petroleum. It could even be used directly in its pure state.

The boats that navigate the river have engines that are adapted to be able to burn much cruder fuels, explains Mr. Girard. He and his team bet that this type of engine would be able to burn biocrude directly, without prior refining. Which simplifies our process even more, adds the researcher.

This is where Maritime Innovation, a Center comes into play technology transfer college based in Rimouski. We are in the process of developing a test bench that will allow this type of fuel to be burned and consumed, says engineer and project manager François-Xavier Rioux.

We really want to see what the impacts will be on the engine, the impacts on atmospheric emissions .

A quote from Jean-Michel Girard, researcher in industrial microbiology, CRBM

The idea is not to completely replace this product with the heavy fuel oil used in the maritime industry. A trend we see in biofuels is that they are mixed with fossil fuel. What this does is that it reduces the quantity of GHGs that are emitted, mentions Mr. Rioux.

The solution developed by the CRBM could make it possible to replace approximately 10% of Quebec's annual consumption of heavy fuel oil.

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François-Xavier Rioux, engineer and project manager at Innovation Maritime

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has also made it a priority. In its 2023 strategy for reducing GHG emissions from ships, it aims to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. To do this, the IMO first plans to reduce total annual emissions from transport international shipping by at least 20% by 2030 and 70% by 2040.

If we actually demonstrate the feasibility on an industrial scale, it is not only Quebec that could benefit from this technology, but the whole world, because there is lactose. everywhere.

A quote from Jean-Michel Girard, researcher in industrial microbiology at the CRBM

To date, several liters of biocrude have been produced to conduct technical trials. These will continue until the end of March 2024. During the same year, the CRBM team will scale up the process. Rather than producing a few liters, we would like to produce a few hundred liters, to really validate the process, concludes Mr. Girard.

All of this will allow possibly moving to industrial production, with the ultimate goal being to commercialize the product. The Ontario company Greenfield Global, specializing in ethanol production, is one of the partners in the research project.

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