Making plastics the green way: World’s first commercial CMF plant opens in Sarnia

Chalk another one up for going green in Sarnia.

The first commercial plant in the world to manufacture a chemical building block for making plastics out of wood chips officially opened Wednesday with a ribbon cutting and big promises for a more sustainable industry.

Origin Materials will begin producing Chloromethylfurfural (CMF) on August 19 if all goes according to plan, according to site manager Tad Matheson.

John Bissell

“We’re excited to see that happen,” said co-CEO John Bissell who flew in from California for the event.

“It’s been a long time coming and a lot of work.”

Origin 1 – as the Sarnia plant is called – uses state-of-the-art technology that converts biomass such as wood chips and sawdust, with an extremely low or no carbon footprint, Bissell said. It converts the biomass into CMF, which is subsequently used for a wide range of products including clothing, textiles, plastics, packaging, car parts, tires, carpeting, toys and fuels that are carbon negative, or nearly carbon negative, and fully recyclable.

Bissell said Sarnia’s Arlanxeo Bioindustrial Park on Vidal Street was chosen for his company’s first plant for a number of reasons including land availability, Sarnia’s skilled labour force for construction and operations, Sarnia’s industrial safety culture, and a site with access to utilities.

During the ribbon cutting, Bissell noted that the new plant is built in about the same location as the original synthetic rubber plant that was constructed during the Second World War.

The rubber plant was a first for Canada as is Origin Materials, he said.

Bissell acknowledged the financial support of the federal government, which contributed $23 million toward the $130-million plant.

“The government’s Innovation Science & Technology fund was a major contributor to our success story,” he said.

He also acknowledged Murray McLaughlin, the former executive director of Sarnia’s Bioindustrial Innovation Canada (BIC) who originally enticed him to consider locating the plant in Sarnia.

The two men met at a conference in California in 2011 and McLaughlin convinced Bissell to travel to Sarnia and see what the community offers.

Sandy Marshall, executive director of Bioindustrial Innovation Canada (BIC), located in Sarnia, speaking at the ribbon cutting for the first Origin Materials plant. (Cathy Dobson photo)

Current BIC executive director Sandy Marshall was also instrumental in bringing the plant here and said Origin’s technology could “fundamentally impact society.”

Twenty-four employees are already working at Origin 1 and several more are still needed, including two engineers and support workers.

Origin Materials intends to build a large-scale plant in Louisiana where Bissell said the ethylene supply is more dependable and at a more predictable price.

“Sarnia has ethylene but not something we could bet on. It’s not as deep or as large of a market,” he said.