Alfred Henry Bence
Yesterday I could not help feeling that a discouraging picture was given by the minister respecting the utilization of agricultural products in the manufacture of synthetic rubber. I feel that possibly the worst side of the picture was presented by the minister. As one who is keenly interested in this subject, which I believe to be of the utmost importance to the part of the country from which I come, I should like to obtain from the minister certain information before
I am prepared to accept in my own. mind the conclusion that the use of agricultural surpluses is not feasible.
Yesterday the minister gave some figures respecting the costs of manufacturing synthetic rubber from wheat. He stated it had been estimated1 that wheat to be used for this purpose would have to be purchased at 25 to 30 cents a bushel. I believe, his w.ords were "it is estimated"; and I also note that in the article he put on the record, which purported to be an answer to Dyson Carter, the same figures are given. Would the minister tell the committee who made the estimate? Was it made by an individual or a group of individuals? Who were they, and what had been their experience along these lines?
Apparently the determination of costs is a difficult matter. Mr. D. G. McKenzie, to whom I referred in my observations the other night, has stated that he discussed this matter with various research scientists, including some of the research foundations and the national research council, and found that he could not get any of these experts to express an opinion as to costs in terms of commercial production. The report made by the national committee of the Canadian chamber of commerce in a booklet called "A Survey of Canadian Research on the Utilization of Farm Products" states this at page 44 of its report, in connection with industrial alcohol:
There is no such thing as "the cost" of making alcohol, since it may vary with the size of plant, cost of raw materials, process used and utilization of by-products. The approximate cost figures under pre-war conditions were estimated to be 35 to 40 cents per gallon of alcohol at the distillery, if wheat at 60 cents per bushel is used.
These figures are somewhat lower than those given yesterday by the minister, and in a moment or two I shall have some questions to ask in that connection. For the information of hon. members and the public generally may I point out that this matter is by no means considered a hopeless one so far as the national research council is concerned. These questions were asked in the house by the hon. member for Souris (Mr. Ross) on April 15:
1. Have scientific investigations been carried on by national research council as to possibility of utilizing Canadian-grown cereals to produce butadiene which is used in manufacturing scientific rubber?
2. Has the department made scientific research into the possibility of producing alcohol, rubber, starch and other commodities, from certain foreign products?
3. If so, what have been the results?
4. What is the cost per pound of rubber made from wheat alcohol as compared to petroleum?
The answers given were as follows:
3. (a) Ethyl alcohol. No experimental work is being done on alcohol production from farm products since the general processes are already well established in industry. Information obtained from the wheat-alcohol commitee of the United States war production board is available to the national research council.
(b) Rubber. Promising results have been obtained from laboratory investigations on the production of butylene glycol from wheat and its conversion to butadiene. A pilot plant scheduled to operate in early summer is under construction. The purpose of this plant is to provide necessary data for the proper design of a full scale industrial plant.
(c) Starch. An improved process for the separation of starch and gluten from wheat flour has been developed on a large laboratory scale. Starch of high purity is obtained by this process without greatly changing the natural properties of the gluten.
4. Actual production costs are not at present available to the national research council.
This indicates that the question of cost is hard to determine. As Mr. McKenzie put it, so far as rubber production is concerned the research scientists are not in position to give an accurate estimate. From the discussion yesterday it would appear that there is a misconception in connection with the use of wheat. Reference was made to eighty cent and ninety cent wheat, and one member talked about dollar wheat. The position in this country is that we have a great deal of poor grade wheat which would cost considerably less than the price paid for No. 1 northern. There also seems to be a misconception in the minds of some hon. members of the house as to the amount of money obtained from the sale of wheat. We do not get ninety cents for our wheat because we are entitled to sell only 280,000,000 bushels.