Energy Tech Talk

Let’s Talk Energy with… Steve Fabijanski, Agrisoma Biosciences

As governments commit to the expanded use of biofuels, a sustainable, economically competitive feedstock supply will be required to meet demand. We talked to Steve Fabijanski, President and CEO of Agrisoma Biosciences, about how his company engineered a non-food oilseed that can grow in marginal soil while delivering larger yields of higher-quality oil tailored to the needs of biofuel manufacturers.

How would you describe your technology?

SF: We’ve taken Brassica carinata (Ethiopian mustard)—a crop that produces oil from its seed—and brought it up to commercial scale. We then work with biofuel manufacturers, including those that make jet fuel, to turn that oil into a biofuel that’s of such high quality you can actually fly an aircraft using nothing but that fuel.

The actual nuts and bolts of how we’ve engineered it are perhaps too difficult to explain—but we’ve developed a way for farmers to use marginal land not suitable for other crops to grow something that can meet the future energy needs for our country.

What’s the significance of the seed you’ve engineered? 

SF: Agriculture is the original carbon-capture business. It takes sunlight carbon dioxide and water to produce the food we eat and, now, the energy we use to power our daily life. We can capture carbon in a sustainable fashion that will benefit the farmer, the land, the environment and, ultimately, all Canadians in the form of cleaner energy and cleaner transportation. This means fewer greenhouse gas emissions, and that’s tremendously important. 

Because the crop is uniquely suited to semi-arid conditions, it doesn’t displace food crops. And that’s the key: we’re providing an alternative source of energy that can be grown in so many different places. 

The specifically-engineered Agrisoma Carinata seed yields more high-quality oil for the production of premium biofuel than similar feedstocks.

You put a lot of focus on the farmer. Why is that? 

SF: Farmers are the ultimate environmentalists: they’ve worked the land and preserved it for generations. To be able to provide a technology that helps them make improvements to the way they manage their land while creating better quality crops, that’s huge.

What has been your biggest challenge?

SF: Getting people to see that something grown on the farm can make a difference to the energy needs of people across Canada. Not a lot of people know that farmers have a significant opportunity to meet a very large portion of our energy needs in a way that’s sustainable and clean. Actually demonstrating to people that it’s not a pipe dream—that’s it’s actually happening today—has been one of our main areas of focus. 

What’s the coolest thing about this project?

SF: Holding in your hand a bunch of seeds and knowing that, 120 days from now, they’ll become oil. And that a few days after that, they’ll become biofuel that can be used to fly a plane. You’re holding the future fuel source of aviation, trucking and public transportation in the palm of your hand. From seed to sky, it’s all connected.

Looking ahead

Having completed the world’s first flight powered by 100 percent renewable biofuel in early 2013, Agrisoma Biosciences is working to further increase its seeds’ yield and enhance their ability to grow in difficult conditions. Doing so will help provide more revenue for Canada’s farmers—and eventually move the technology to the international market. 

“At our heart, we’re an agricultural company,” says Fabijanski. “We are a firm believer that this whole value chain starts with knowing and working with farmers. As an industry, agriculture has the capacity to deliver energy on a scale that most people simply can’t imagine.”

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