Johnstown plant first in Canada to supply abundant new source of hand sanitizer


Greenfield Global is ramping up its plants in Johnstown south of Ottawa and in Varennes, Que. to meet the surging demand in Canada for hand sanitizer.

The Toronto-based company is Canada’s largest ethanol producer and a producer of specialty alcohols for the renewable fuels industry. Its Johnstown plant became the first in Canada this week to receive Health Canada approval to ship technical-grade alcohol for use in the production of hand sanitizer. Similar approval for the company’s Varennes plant, located just outside Montreal, soon followed.

Each plant will be able to produce 20 million litres per month, according to John Wilkinson, Greenfield Global’s senior vice-president of sustainability.

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“We believe that there is now a plentiful, Health Canada-approved supply of technical-grade alcohol, well in excess of surging demand,” Wilkinson said via email. “By diverting the hand sanitizer supply chain to technical-grade alcohol, Canada reduces the risk faced by all countries of running out of a specialty alcohol called USP grade.”

Hand sanitizer is the only application for which technical grade alcohol is permitted by Health Canada to be used in place of USP Grade. USP-grade alcohol, or food grade, is the key ingredient in conventional hand sanitizer, but it is also used in many other applications, which has contributed to the supply crunch as the demand for hygiene products surges in response to COVID-19.

UPS grade is also used to disinfect equipment used by food processors and by pharmaceutical companies. Greenfield Global produces USP-grade alcohol at its Tiverton and Chatham plants in Ontario, where production continues at full capacity. 

While this increase in supply is good news for Canadians, it has left staff at the Johnstown and Varennes plants scrambling to ramp production to full capacity as soon as possible.

“They have their hands full creating new logistics that did not exist a month ago,” Wilkinson said.

At present, Greenfield Global is authorized by Health Canada to use technical-grade alcohol for hand sanitizer production until June 30. This time limit is expected to be extended should the current public health emergency still be in effect.

Statistics Canada reported earlier this month that national demand for hand sanitizer had spiked by 700 per cent in late March compared to the year before.

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