Sarnia may be home to Canada’s first soy-based food ingredient manufacturer

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Construction of Canada’s first soy protein isolate production facility could begin in the coming months at TransAlta’s Bluewater Energy Park in Sarnia, according to the company leading the project.

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New Protein International, based in Ontario, is building a facility in Sarnia to process 68,000 metric tons of non-genetically modified soybeans into 16,000 metric tons per year of soy protein isolate – an ingredient used in formulas infant formula, sports supplements, beverages and herbs. soy food products – as well as soybean oil and by-products for the animal feed industry.

“If all goes well, we’re hoping to have a shovel in the ground maybe in late summer or early fall,” CEO Martin VanderLoo said. “We have financial backing from a number of lenders and we are basically looking for equity investors here at this stage.

“We also have a few industry sponsors with us, so it’s moving forward. It took a long time to come, but it is slowly coming to fruition. »

This week it was announced that an $11.3 million pilot plant is also planned at the site to produce batches of samples using the company’s proprietary extraction process to ship to potential customers. of the food industry. The pilot plant would also allow the company “to optimize or fine-tune our product for the various applications,” VanderLoo said.

The company’s process does not use hexane, a “petroleum distillate,” which has been used around the world for decades as a solvent to extract oil from oilseeds.

VanderLoo said small amounts of hexane can be found in food products.

“That’s why some of these big companies are very interested in our process,” he said. “It’s essentially ‘clean-label’ or just chemical-free.”

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The response was “very, very good” to samples they sent out to a number of international food companies, VanderLoo said.

“They are interested enough in our products to request much larger samples,” which the pilot plant will provide them with, he said.

“Removing hexane from soy protein processing while adding value to the rest of the soybean crop is the kind of innovation that will help us keep pace with what consumers want, while helping Canada achieve its economic goals related to plant-based foods and ingredients,” said Bill Greuel, CEO of Protein Industries Canada, in a press release.

The industry-led nonprofit group is providing $2.2 million for the pilot plant.

VanderLoo declined on Friday to say how much it is expected to cost to build the company’s commercial-scale plant, but added that more details may be available “when we’re ready to put that shovel in the ground.”

“We’re almost done with the detailed engineering piece,” he said. “That sounds pretty positive.”

Construction is expected to take around 24 months and the facility will employ more than 100 workers once in operation, he said.

Planning changes are being sought from the city for the project and a public meeting is scheduled for July 25.

Because of the soybeans the facility will need, Sarnia’s Bluewater Energy Park is “ideally located,” VanderLoo said.

“This whole area is a big soybean production area.”

The fact that the site is next to TransAlta’s power generation plant also has advantages, he said.

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“The City of Sarnia is thrilled to have us land there,” said VanderLoo. “As you know, it’s always been called Chemical Valley. To see an agricultural goods production facility coming to the area, I think, excites most of the town there from what we hear.

VanderLoo said Canada is “a huge producer of grains and oilseeds” but currently sends soybeans and other grains overseas where they are processed into ingredients sent back for use by food companies.

“It just doesn’t make much sense,” he said. “This will be the first soy-based food ingredient production facility in Canada.

The benefits include improving food security, solving supply chain issues, creating jobs and paying farmers a premium for the type of soybeans the facility will use, he said. he declares.

“He just checks a lot of boxes, in my opinion,” VanderLoo said.

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