Enerkem holds grand opening at Edmonton waste-to-biofuels plant

By Sue Retka Schill | June 04, 2014

Enerkem Inc. held a grand opening of its commercial-scale trash-to-biofuels plant in Edmonton, Alberta, on June 4, with state and local officials attending the noon event. In announcing the official launch, Enerkem described it as “the world’s first facility using garbage instead of fossil sources to produce chemicals and liquid transportation fuels.”

“Commissioning is nearing the end in the next couple of days,” said Vincent Chornet, president and CEO. “Then we’ll be starting production and, with our disciplined approach, will ramp up production.”  Initially, the plant will produce methanol, he added, “We can take advantage of methanol prices in Alberta that are quite high right now.”

“We are proud of the inauguration of our first full-scale biorefinery facility as it is the culmination of more than 10 years of disciplined efforts to scale up our technology from pilot and demonstration, to commercial scale,” Chornet said. He was joined in the inaugural ceremonies by Edmonton mayor Don Iveson and Robin Campbell, minister of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development, and House leader, representing the government of Alberta.

“The City of Edmonton is a world leader in sustainable waste management and the opening of the waste-to-biofuels and chemicals facility demonstrates our commitment to finding innovative solutions to harness the value in waste,” Iveson said at the inauguration. “This type of leading edge innovation demands a team approach and we're proud of our partnership with Enerkem and Alberta Innovates – Energy and Environment Solutions."

“This game-changing facility provides clear environmental benefits as it converts waste into value-added products,” Campbell said in his remarks. “This is another great example of Alberta innovation at work, helping to diversify our economy through new, leading-edge technology."

Construction in Edmonton began August 2010 and when the plant is fully operational, it will have a production capacity of up to 38 MMly (10 MMgy). Using presorted municipal solid waste, it will help the city of Edmonton divert 90 percent of the residential waste stream from landfill, by processing the nonrecyclable portion.

The Edmonton facility is the first of what the company hopes will be a string of commercial developments.  As part of its Waste Management investor agreement, Enerkem may be developing up to 20 facilities in North America, Cornet said. The company has long had a proposed project for Pontotoc, Mississippi, as well as a joint venture with Greenfield Ethanol at Varennes, Quebec. With the first plant about to become operational, Chornet reported that others have expressed interest. “Nobody wants to be first, but many are willing to be second,” he said.

Enerkem’s business model is to manufacture compact and standardized modular units. The company developed its process at the company’s research and development pilot facility in Sherbrooke, Quebec, and scaling up at its 1.3 MMgy demonstration facility in Westbury, Quebec, which began operations in 2009. Its technology utilizes a bubbling fluidized bed reactor to gasify carbon-rich residues into syngas, which is then cracked into simple molecules and catalytically reformed into biofuels. The demo plant began methanol production in 2011, followed by cellulosic ethanol production in 2012. Similarly, the Edmonton plant is starting up with methanol production this summer, with the ethanol conversion expected to be in place next year. 

While Enerkem withdrew its 2012 initial public offering, the company successfully raised $87 million in equity in 2013, bringing the total private financing raised by Enerkem since its inception to $247 million, of which $231 million was raised during the past four years. Strategic partnerships and investments include Waste Management, Valero Energy, Braemar Energy Ventures, Methanex and others.

A new research effort was launched a year ago to develop new catalytic processes for the conversion of waste into drop-in biofuels that are fully interchangeable with hydrocarbon fuels, such as conventional gasoline, diesel and jet fuel. The project will be conducted at Enerkem’s research and development pilot facility in Sherbrooke, Quebec, in collaboration with the University of Sherbrooke. The government of Canada is contributing $1.1 million through the ecoENERGY Innovation Initiative via Natural Resources Canada. Chornet added that Enerkem is also looking at acrylic acid as a potential product, being developed at the research facility alongside the larger plant at Edmonton.

Chornet was recently profiled in Biomass Magazine; the interview can be viewed hereEthanol Producer Magazine also recently featured Enerkem in the article, “Trash to Bio-Treasure,” found here.