Waste to biofuel firm Enerkem’s Edmonton, Alberta, facility was a long time in the making. After years of development, the company’s first full-scale commercial facility met all operational milestones set by its senior lender in early April. Now the company is poised for its next steps.
The facility turns the city’s nonrecylable and noncompostable trash into methanol and ethanol. The project enables diversion from landfill, cuts gas emissions and helps oil companies meet obligations to use alternative, renewable fuels.
Development started earlier this decade. The first stage opened in 2014 allowing it produce methanol. Last year, the plant shut down briefly so construction of its final stage could be completed enabling the methanol to be converted to ethanol.
The Montreal-based company will produce over 10 million gallons of ethanol annually at the Edmonton plant when at full capacity.
It’s taken years to develop the technology and get the biorefinery fully operational at a commercial scale. Marie-Hélène Labrie, Enerkem’s senior vice president, government affairs and communications, discusses what was entailed. She shares what makes this model unique; their market; and where the company will go next, leveraging what its learned in Edmonton.
Marie-Helene Lebrie explains the process and the challenges in bringing such a facility into operation…..Enerkem’s thermochemical process converts nonrecylable household garbage into low-carbon transportation fuel and renewable chemicals to use in textiles, coatings, glue and other products.
The thermochemical process involves preparing feedstock, which undergoes gasification whereby carbon-rich residue is converted to synthetic gas. The syngas is purified then converted into the final product using our catalytic conversion process.
Enerkem produce cellulosic ethanol and biomethanol from nonrecyclable solid waste.
Meanwhile, over 60 countries are mandated to have a minimal ethanol content in their gas. There are federal mandates such as the renewable fuel standards, as well as low-carbon fuel standards in California and British Columbia. These regulations are driving demand for biofuels including from unconventional feedstocks, as is the trend toward capping food crop-based ethanol.
Advanced biorefinery technologies require time to scale up. We went through development phases from lab, to pilot, demo and full-scale plant.
The biggest technology-related challenge occurred when our plant design was completed and datasheets were ready to send to equipment manufacturers for fabrication. Our required equipment types were never manufactured before. They needed to be adapted to our unique needs. For example, the solid waste-handling equipment is usually not adapted for pressure vessels. We worked with our vendors to help them adapt their equipment to our specifications.
To ensure effective deployment, we also built our facilities based on a modular manufacturing approach consisting of 90 prefabricated systems for each production line.
Enerkem launched a pilot facility in 2003 to make syngas, methanol and ethanol from municipal solid waste. We moved to industrial demonstration scale in 2009 with syngas production. And we started producing methanol and ethanol in 2011 and 2012 at demonstration scale.
We tested over 20 solid feedstocks and did extensive piloting and demonstration to scale up. In 2014, we inaugurated the full-scale facility in Edmonton, marking the end of the first construction phase. We started producing methanol on a commercial scale in June 2016. The facility is fully operational, and we are adding ethanol, which we plan to sell in volume this summer.
We are in discussions with U.S. municipalities to develop biorefineries and are talking to interested partners in China. We would produce methanol, ethanol, or both from garbage, based on demand.
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