By Roy L Hales
The first industrial-scale municipal solid waste to biofuel facility opened in Edmonton on June 4, 2014. Enerkem’s waste-to-biofuels and chemicals facility will convert 100,000 tonnes of sorted municipal waste, a year, into biofuels and chemicals. Once the facility is up to full capacity, in 2016, the city will be able to divert 90% of its residential waste from landfills.
“The City of Edmonton is a world leader in sustainable waste management and the opening of the Waste-to-Biofuels and Chemicals Facility demonstrates our commitment to finding innovative solutions to harness the value in waste,” said Mayor Don Iveson.
Edmonton is already diverting 60% of its residential waste from landfills.
This compares favorably with other Canadian cities. The city and district of Vancouver diverts 55% of its organic waste from landfills. Toronto diverts 52%, London 44% and Ottawa 40% of its solid waste.
You have to look south of the border to find more impressive statics than Edmonton’s. San Francisco claims to have the highest rate in North America: 80% of all discards. Portland diverts 85% of its residential waste, but only 58% from the commercial sector.
Edmonton will produce 38 million litres of clean fuels and biochemicals from waste that used to end up in landfills. This will initially be used to produce methanol. The facility will eventually produce enough ethanol to fill the tanks of 400,000 cars with a 5% (E5) blend.
“We believe that this game-changing facility, built in partnership with the City of Edmonton, can become a model for many communities around the world that are looking for a sustainable way to manage waste,” said Vincent Chornet, President and CEO of Enerkem.
The projects origins go back a decade, when a team from what is now known as Alberta Innovates began working with the city of Edmonton to select a technology that will turn municipal solid wastes into power or biofuels.
“The Enerkem thermochemical process had clear advantages over many others,” said Dr. Eddy Isaacs, Chief Executive Officer, Alberta Innovates – Energy and Environment Solutions.
Chornet said, “We break down the waste using heat and convert it into a gas that is as clean as natural gas. Then we convert the gas to liquid methanol — and all that happens in three minutes.”
Edmonton’s decision to go with Enerkem was announced in 2008.
Edmonton’s former mayor, Stephen Mandel, played a central role in shepherding this deal through each of the major milestones. Don Iveson, who succeeded him in 2013, was initially involved as a city council member.
“We are now so very pleased to see the hard work of planning, developing and testing come to fruition. With the grand opening of the Enerkem Alberta Biofuels facility and the Advanced Energy Research Facility, Alberta has become a global leader in converting municipal wastes into value-added products,” said Dr Isaacs.
“Here we are with one of the last pieces of the puzzle to get us to almost complete diversion from the landfill,” Iverson said Wednesday. “We think 90 per cent of our trash will now go to some higher purpose than being buried in the ground. We’re creating green jobs, we’re creating value and we’re helping support innovation in Alberta and in the Canadian economy.”
“This is another great example of Alberta innovation at work, helping to diversify our economy through new, leading-edge technology,” said Robin Campbell, Alberta’s Minister of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development.
Enerkem owns the plant and will handle operations. The city of Edmonton is to supply 100,000 tonnes annually of sorted municipal waste that cannot be composted or recycled.
“We’re paying about 70 dollars a tonne to transport and landfill our material at an outside landfill,” said Jim Schubert, acting director of business planning and central operations with the City of Edmonton. “The cost of the biofuels facility when its fully operational will be around 75 dollars a tonne. So for approximately the same cost we’re going to be turning that material into something useful.”