Sustane Technologies to produce pellets from MSW in Canada

By Katie Fletcher | September 30, 2016

Canadian cleantech company Sustane Technologies Inc. recently finalized a 20-year contract with the municipality of Chester, Nova Scotia, to support the commercialization of its disruptive process that turns municipal solid waste (MSW) into biomass pellets, recyclable materials and diesel fuel.

The company’s main focus has been on commercializing its MSW separation technology to create clean biomass pellets, which, company president Peter Vinall said, has “very low levels of contamination and cannot be compared to traditional refused-derived fuels.” The company also plans to turn the recovered plastics into oil using a pyrolysis process as well as recover the recyclables, like various metals. Vinall commented that “In addition, the new Sustane process is fully competitive with landfilling costs in most regions and gives cities a new alternative to operating landfills or shipping MSW to distant disposal operations with tremendous environmental benefits.”

Sustane Technologies was created through a partnership between Vinall; Javier De La Fuente, chief technology officer and developer of the core technology and intellectual property for Sustane’s process; and Robert Richardson, chief financial officer and an investor in the business.  The company was recently recognized as the top startup company for Nova Scotia in 2015- ‘16, winning the Innovacorp i3 (idea, innovation, implementation) competition from nearly 200 other entrants from across the province.

The catalyst for this project was to take something that’s destined for an expensive landfill and create a valuable fuel. Vinall described how pure wood pellets are valuable, particularly in Europe and other places around the world, but refused-derived pellets are not. “You have to have an incinerator, cement kiln or something to get rid of them, so the question was ‘how do we move from a fuel that is really worthless because of its plastic contamination to something more valuable, like a wood pellet?’,” he said. “The biomass in our pellets is very clean and gets us up closer to the price level of wood.”

This type of pellet is viable for power companies like Emera Energy, which Sustane has an offtake agreement with for the pellets. Emera will conduct trial runs with Sustane’s pellets, working with the Department of Environment to certify them, and from there they will continue to operate, Vinall said. He added that they plan to co-fire the pellets, replacing some portion of forest-based biomass, like wood bark and wood, with Sustane’s biomass pellets.

According to Vinall, the plan is to break ground on the Chester facility within weeks and Sustane is working on finalizing its financing at this time. “We hope to get as much up before the snow flies, and then we’ll startup at the end of 2017,” he said.

The project will include a $16 million facility located on land leased by Chester adjacent to the local landfill, within what’s called the Kaizer Meadow Eco Park. Vinall said the long-term goal of the Eco Park is to eliminate landfilling and the company’s project will help achieve that.

This project will convert over 90 percent of the waste destined to the landfill into biomass pellets, recyclable materials and diesel fuel. What’s left is mostly glass, sand grit and inorganic material, which short-term will be landfilled, but over time may be used as an aggregate for construction. Vinall said the small percentage that will be landfilled in the short term won’t create issues in terms of leachate or greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions as there is no organic material in it.

Besides GHG emissions reduction, the plant will be energy self-sufficient. “We eliminate methane completely, so that’s huge because there is no landfill anymore, and our plant is energy self-sufficient,” Vinall said. “We’ll use just a small portion of the diesel that is generated from the plastics to run the whole plant and then we’ll have a net surplus of fuel oil that we can sell.”

The plant will convert about 150 tons per day of MSW into its end products, including about 80 tons of biomass pellets daily. In order to create the pellets, garbage is brought to a tipping floor where it is shredded using a rotating shredder. The shredded material is cooked with steam using a proprietary digester, which Vinall said has a unique action that separates the plastic from the biomass while it’s cooking.

From there, a series of wet and dry proprietary separators remove all of the plastic product after cooking. Plastic is also recovered separately for recycling and the metals are recovered using conventional technology that can be found at a MRF. After separation takes place, the final biomass product is dried and pelletized in an industrial wood pelletizer. The recovered biomass pellets have approximately the same energy content as dry wood.

The company is currently finalizing an agreement to license the plastic-to-diesel component of the plant, which will be incorporated as a second phase of the project.

Although Emera will be taking most of the pelletized material from this first plant, Vinall said, they have other customers who are interested. “We’re looking to the future for growth opportunities in replacing biomass, replacing coal and also gasifying the pellets,” Vinall said. “There are different pathways we see that can be applied in different situations and locations, and we see virtually unlimited application of this disruptive technology around the world.”