Martin Anderson was on a plane to Toronto to watch his beloved Maple Leafs take on the Boston Bruins when his fascination with fish fuel began.
“I was flipping through a business magazine when I saw a little article about a company down in Lunenburg that was using the waste from its cooked fish pieces and burning it in their furnace,” explains the power engineer from Antigonish. “I said, ‘Jeez that’s pretty neat, what a great idea.’”
Anderson returned home to his job at Saint Francis Xavier University, satisfied with the Leafs’ tied game, and determined to learn more about this sustainable and environmentally-friendly fuel. He began researching the technology and partnering with the province’s early biofuel converts. Within a couple of months he had the university’s boiler running on fish oil and yielding impressive results.
“The reduction in emissions leaving the boiler and entering the atmosphere was huge,” he says. “You could actually feel the difference because you used to be able to taste the sulphur in the air.”
The drive to expand his research with biofuels and share that knowledge with tomorrow’s power engineers, led Martin to a teaching position at NSCC’s Strait Area Campus. Working with the College’s Applied Research division and his own Power Engineering students, Martin has already developed a fish oil-fueled boiler system for one of the campus’ labs. It’s powered by locally sourced fish oil, a by-product of Ocean Nutrition Canada’s nearby plant in Mulgrave.
Martin says what began as a research experiment, offered invaluable hands-on learning. “Our students, as power engineers, did what they would in a plant. They looked at efficiencies, the fuel and what the emissions were. They can now say in their portfolios they have biofuel experience, which is huge.”
Second-year power engineering student Ryan MacDonald agrees. “There are a lot of companies that are ready to make the switch to biofuels, so going into the workplace, I can bring the experience of having been a part of this process,” he says.
Pipefitting and Welding students also benefitted from the project – they helped build the innovative system. Ryan says that kind of collaboration with students in other disciplines helped to simulate a real work environment. “Boilers are intricate systems and running them safely takes a lot of people performing different functions. On a large pump, you’d be working with machinists, pipefitters and maybe welders.”
As Ryan and his classmates graduate and enter the workforce, Martin looks forward to sharing his passion with a whole new group of students this fall. He also has big ideas for the future of biofuel in Nova Scotia, believing it could be a practical option for homeowners.
“By partnering with industry, I’m hoping to get a separate shop where we can test different biofuels, looking at the chemistry of the type of fuel and what sort of additive we need to use to make it viable for more commercial users…even domestic users,” he says.
Anderson’s research was funded by NSCC’s Applied Research division and a grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).