“ We have been working with SDTC since 2003 and were able to see first-hand their instrumental role in the development and commercial deployment of clean technologies in Canada. The team has built a strong knowledge of the sector, both technical and commercial, which is recognized not only in Canada but also abroad. In light of our country’s ambitious targets in GHG emissions reductions, we believe that SDTC’s contribution will become increasingly important in the next few years.”
Enerkem Alberta Biofuels LP, a subsidiary of Montreal-based Enerkem Inc., has built the world’s first commercial-scale biorefinery dedicated to the production of renewable chemicals and advanced biofuels using non-recyclable municipal solid waste as feedstock. The next-generation cellulosic ethanol plant is capable of converting 100,000 Bone Dry Metric Tons (BDMT) of sorted municipal solid waste (MSW) into 38 million litres of cellulosic ethanol. The project utilizes thermo-chemical gasification process technology developed by Enerkem and is sited adjacent to the City of Edmonton Integrated Waste Management Centre (EWMC).
An estimated 1.3 billion tonnes of municipal solid waste is generated globally every year, and about two thirds of it finds its way into bulging municipal landfills. Development of new landfills has become a hot-button topic of controversy in many cities, with many residents rejecting them as eyesores and environmental permits becoming increasingly difficult to obtain. For years, cities around the world have been searching for ways to divert municipal waste from landfills and incinerators, but one of the major barriers has been tipping fees—non-landfill options often cost significantly more per tonne than landfilling.
In Canada, one of the most innovative cities when it comes to finding sustainable waste-management solutions has been Edmonton. In 2004, the city launched a global search for alternatives to its landfill, which was quickly nearing capacity. More than 100 companies and corresponding technologies bid on the project and were evaluated by the city with Enerkem selected to provide a sustainable waste-management solution.
In 2014, Enerkem Alberta Biofuels began commissioning its first commercial facility built adjacent to the Edmonton Waste Management Centre. When operating at full capacity, this facility will help the City of Edmonton increase its waste diversion rate to nearly 90 per cent using Enerkem’s patented thermo-chemical technology that converts non-recyclable waste into renewable fuels and chemicals.
The synthetic gas produced by the advanced gasification process is cleaned and put through a catalytic process to produce methanol and then ethanol. At full capacity, the first-of-kind Enerkem plant will convert 100,000 dry metric tonnes per year f municipal solid waste into 38 million litres of biofuels, which are then sold as a chemical intermediates or clean burning fuel to refiners, blenders and petrochemical producers. By using non-recyclable municipal solid waste as a feedstock, Enerkem provides a sustainable alternative to the challenges associated with waste disposal and conventional biofuels. It equally answers the question of how to dispose of rapidly accumulating non-recyclable and non-compostable garbage, while avoiding methane emissions from waste decomposition in landfills and creating value-added products from otherwise useless waste.
Additional Sustainable Fuels
As commissioning of the Edmonton plant commenced, the company began to prepare for the addition of an ethanol module to the plant that will convert the biomethanol to ethanol via a catalytic process. This product expansion will allow Enerkem to access the renewable fuels market in North America and Europe—where ethanol is widely blended into the gasoline supply to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve fuel performance. The new ethanol module is expected to be commissioned in 2017.
With lessons learned at Enerkem Alberta Biofuels, Enerkem is developing a similar facility in Varennes, Quebec that will be co-located alongside an existing, first-generation ethanol plant. The facility will produce cellulosic ethanol from non-recyclable institutional, commercial and industrial waste construction, and demolition debris.
Enerkem is also working with partners in China to jointly build municipal solid-waste-to-biofuels facilities and in 2014 signed an agreement with AkzoNobel, a leading global paints and coatings company and a major producer of specialty chemicals, to develop a project partnership to explore waste-to-chemical and biofuels opportunities throughout Europe. All of these initiatives are targeted at a global market that could yield 160 billion litres of sustainable fuels and chemicals from more than 420 million tonnes of non-recyclable, non-compostable municipal solid waste.