Edmonton first in world to turn trash into biofuel

Enerkem's Waste-to-Biofuels and Chemicals Facility, located at the Edmonton Waste Management Centre. June 4, 2014. Vinesh Pratap/Global News

EDMONTON – Most people don’t give much thought to where their garbage goes once it’s in the trash. But an innovative new facility might give Edmontonians a reason to pay attention − maybe even brag.

In the next few days, the world’s first municipal waste-to-biofuels facility will come online. Located in the Edmonton Waste Management Centre, the industrial-scale plant will transform solid waste into biofuels and chemicals. The waste would otherwise be sent to landfills.

“It’s a game changer … It’s our ‘Back-To-The-Future’ project.” said Jim Schubert, acting director of business planning and central operations with the City of Edmonton.

The Waste-to-Biofuels and Chemicals Facility is the result of a collaboration between the city, province and a private company, Enerkem, which owns and operates the plant.

“The world is watching what we are doing here in Edmonton,” said Enerkem CEO Vincent Chornet, during a tour Wednesday morning. “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 into liquid methanol — and all of that happens in 3 minutes.”

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As it is now, measures such as recycling and composting divert about 60 per cent of Edmonton garbage from landfills. That rate will jump to 90 per cent by 2016, thanks to the facility.

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“Here we are with one of the last pieces of the puzzle to get us to almost complete diversion from the landfill,” said Mayor Don Iveson. “We think 90 per cent of our trash will now go to some higher purpose.”

Each year, the city will supply 100,000 tonnes of waste to the plant. The cost will be similar to what the city already pays for garbage disposal.

“We’re paying about 70 dollars a tonne to transport and landfill our material at an outside landfill,” said Schubert. “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.”

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“Our investment is in choosing to pay Enerkem to process this material rather than sending it to a hole in the ground,” added Iveson.

The city has been looking at new ways to deal with waste since the 1990s. The technology behind the facility has been in the works for 10 years.

The plant will initially produce methanol and later ethanol. When at full capacity, it will produce 38 million litres of fuels and biochemicals each year.

For more information on how the waste-to-biofuel process works, visit the city’s website.

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