Regina will soon be home to the first ever flax pellet biomass processing facility in the world.
Regina-based company Prairie Clean Energy (PCE) announced they expect to have their facility up and running by the end of the year. (https://leaderpost.com/business/energy/new-regina-facility-to-produce-flax-pellets-for-growing-biomass-market) Also on the docket is a wood pelleting facility in northern Saskatchewan.
“We [Regina and Saskatchewan] have what the world needs,” said CEO Mark Cooper, adding clean energy is where the world is headed.
Biomass energy in itself isn’t a new concept. It’s been around longer than man (or woman) has been able to create fire. It is energy generated or produced by living or once-living organisms that is then burned to create heat, converted into electricity, (https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/biomass-energy) or converted into liquid biofuels (https://www.fcl.crs/news-reports/news/article/FCL-to-construct-Integrated-Agriculture-Complex). However, it wasn’t until the 1970s that it was given its name and truly looked at as a possible replacement for fossil fuels.
PCE was founded in 2015 by Trevor Thomas, who thought producers could stop burning flax straw and start harnessing the power of that fuel. Harnessed properly, biomass is a carbon neutral energy that can provide baseload power, which is important for industrial and steady use. Cooper came on board in 2020 and helped turn Thomas’ idea into reality, with a vision to become a leader in the clean and bio-energy space based out of Regina.
“Opportunities are immense, and we have the energy right here and today we just call it waste,” he said, adding facilities like theirs can change the province’s own power footprint – and change the world.
For PCE, Cooper said, the real opportunity is how do they develop local demand for their product, which would reduce their near carbon zero footprint even further.
“If we don’t have to ship it across the world, then what we actually have is a carbon negative product, which is fantastic,” he said.
SUB: Location, Location, Location
With 80% of Canada’s dryland farming around the GRA, this is an ideal location for a flax pellet facility.
“There is a dominant market for flax here in Saskatchewan and that’s where most of the straw is, so our first few centres will be here, but we’re always going to be a Regina-based company. All of the primary owners are based here in this city and province,” Cooper said, but added they will have operations in western Canada and US because the facilities will need to go where crop residue is.
It’s not only the proximity to feedstock that has PCE committed to keeping its headquarters in Regina, but also leadership accessibility.
“You have a community here where we can request meetings with ministers or deputy ministers and actually meet them face to face within a couple of days – where we know each other, where there is trust established; relationships built, which is simple not possible in larger jurisdictions,” he said.
Moving forward Cooper hopes his company grows to where he can invest in the emergence of new companies and be an incubator.
“PCE and myself are very grateful for the support of very large Saskatchewan-based companies in this space that have reached out and encouraged and supported us as we’ve grown. I’m not sure the success we’ve achieved to date would have been without that,” he said.
“They [Saskatchewan companies] don’t see it as taking away from themselves. They see it as adding to the mix.”
Being close to home doesn’t hurt either.
“It took me five minutes to drive to the office today and usually take me 10 minutes to bike, and 25 minutes to walk and I got to tell you that I have colleagues and friends who have businesses who commute to Vancouver, or Toronto, or Montreal, or Calgary and they can barely get out of their driveway in seven minutes. Quality of life is outstanding.”
Although every location has areas of struggle, Cooper said there is no better place than Regina to grow a business.