Transforming Garbage into Clean Fuel
What happens to waste we can’t recycle or compost? In much of the world, it’s destined for a landfill or incinerator. In the landfill, waste emits methane, which is about 25 times as potent a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide. Incinerating garbage can be used to generate electricity, but that also emits large amounts of greenhouse gases.
Canadian company Enerkem is changing that. It took 15 years of research for the Chornet family, who founded the company back in 2000, to develop a unique world-leading technology. After creating a pilot and small-scale demonstration plant, the stage was set to build an industrial-scale operation. Enerkem’s Alberta Biofuels facility opened in 2015 in Edmonton, the world’s first commercial scale facility to produce clean energy from waste.
Around this time, the City of Edmonton was looking into more ways to divert waste away from their landfill. The landfill was nearing capacity, and even though Edmonton had a strong recycling and composting program, only 50 per cent of its waste was being diverted from the landfill.
At first, the biofuels facility turned garbage into methanol, a flammable liquid used in hundreds of household products like paint, glue, automotive parts and textiles. Enerkem recently upgraded the facility to be able to also produce ethanol, which is used as a biofuel and can be mixed with gasoline.
The facility can divert 100,000 tons of garbage from the Edmonton landfill each year, and creates 40 million liters of ethanol from that process.
“Edmonton is seen as a flagship,” said Pierre Boisseau, Senior Director of Communications and Marketing at Enerkem. “The Government of Alberta and the City of Edmonton are being recognized for their leadership from an environmental standpoint.”
Boisseau promotes Enerkem’s technology to a diverse audience to gain visibility and awareness. The response to this facility has been very positive, he said, both in Edmonton and around the world, adding that because their technology compliments instead of competes with recycling and composting, cities have been quick to embrace it.
Enerkem is now getting attention from across the world, from other cities and countries interested in turning landfill waste into usable fuel. The next Canadian facility Enerkem is building will be in Montréal, and there are other potential projects including in the Netherlands, Spain, the U.S. and China.