Why Let it go to Waste? Enerkem Leaps Ahead With Trash-to-Gas Plans
March 3, 2010 8:20 AM
A single ton of waste can fuel a car for 1,550 miles. Consider that the U.S. and Canada produce millions of tons yearly, that's truly exciting.
Enerkem already has a running commercial-scale plant in Westbury, Quebec, and is building another in Edmonton, Alberta with funding from Waste Management (the Westbury plant's "Gasifier and Syngas Conditioning Equipment" are shown here).
Enerkem's corporate plan is in the trash -- literally
In the U.S. the average person generates 4.5 lb. of municipal solid waste (MSW) per day
. That's millions of tons of waste over the course of the year. A lot of that waste contains valuable hydrocarbons that rot in landfills releasing gases like methane. Regardless of your stance on carbon pollution, it seems unfortunate to be letting all those energy-rich molecules go to waste.
, a Canadian-based alternative energy startup, is looking to change that and they've found a big backer in Waste Management.
, along with institutional investors Rho Ventures, Braemar Energy Ventures, BDR Capital, and Cycle Capital have given Enerkem $53.8M USD in financing to start launching gasification plants.
The waste-to-gas maker already proved its mettle with a pilot plant in Sherbrooke, a city in southern Quebec, and a commercial scale facility in Westbury, a township in southeastern Quebec. The commercial-scale plant opened in 2009 and has since put in 1,000 hours of operation.
The new funding, along with a $50M USD grant from the U.S. Department of Energy will fund a new plant in Edmonton, Alberta, which will take in 100,000 tons of dry waste yearly and will produce 10 million gallons of biofuel. The plant has a 25 year contract with the city of Edmonton.
The plant should have plenty of waste to keep it running; according to recent estimates Canadians have the highest per-capita waste output of any country in the world, with the average person producing 5.05 lb of waste per day.
caught up an Enerkem representative to find out more about the company's plans. According to Enerkem, the new plant will cost $80M Canadian (appr. $77.3 USD). The plant, like Enerkem's others, relies on the waste being first gasified. Commercially available catalysts then react the waste gas to form methanol, acetates and ethanol in a sequential conversion process.
The first plants are also capable of producing syngas, a mix of carbon monoxide and hydrogen. Enerkem's representative says that the company's technology should allow it to produce synthetic gasoline in future plants as well. Unfortunately, Enerkem, like
many alternative energy startups
, declines to publish its operational costs so that remains an open question.
It did however, share with us its reduction carbon footprint, which it estimates amounts to an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gases versus traditional landfilling. We asked Enerkem if they would consider using a biological fermentation process (driven by genetically modified bacteria) as an alternative to commercial enzymes. Enerkem responds, "
In periphery, we are looking at different biological processes to ferment our synthetic gas into alcohols and high-value chemicals.
While some details remain unknown, it's exciting to see some enterprising startups looking to take advantage of the wealth of energy we let go to waste in landfills every day. It won't be cheap to implement the infrastructure needed to harvest this energy, but at the end of the day, it seems like it will be well worth it, assuming it can be efficiently implemented.
"So if you want to save the planet, feel free to drive your Hummer. Just avoid the drive thru line at McDonalds." -- Michael Asher
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