Enerkem syngas-to-ethanol plant begins start-up

By Anna Austin
Web exclusive posted Jan. 14, 2009, at 10:38 a.m. CST

Quebec, Canada-based Enerkem Inc. announced it has initiated start-up operations at its commercial-scale syngas-to-ethanol/methanol plant in Westbury, Quebec.

Enerkem's thermo-chemical gasification and catalytic synthesis technology has been tested at a pilot-scale facility in Sherbrooke, Quebec, since 2003. Construction of the commercial-scale facility began in October 2007 and recently reached completion after approximately 14 months.

The 1.3 MMgy plant, collocated with a saw mill, will utilize waste materials such as treated wood from used electricity poles. The company said its technology produces 360 liters (95 gallons) of ethanol per ton of waste.

Regarding the start-up, Enerkem President and Chief Executive Officer Vincent Chornet told Biomass Magazine that he's happy with progress so far. "We are in the process of starting the machine that will convert telephone poles into a clean, synthetic gas, which can be used as a chemical feedstock," he said. Although he did not disclose an approximate date, Chornet said he expected the facility to become fully operation within a few months, when the company will bolt in the alcohol islands which will produce ethanol and methanol.

"There have been some challenges-as would occur with any premier or first of its kind," Chornet said. "A project of this nature is not simple."

The Westbury facility is designed to process sorted municipal sold waste streams. "Forestry biomass is like butter for us," Chornet said. "Although the plant is designed to be flexible."

The ethanol produced at Enerkem's facility will be sold within Canada to refineries, Chornet said, adding that the company is in talks with refineries in greater Montreal area.

In addition to its Westbury project, Enerkem has partnered with GreenField Ethanol, Canada's largest ethanol producer, and the city of Edmonton, Alberta, to build and operate a facility that will produce methanol and cellulosic ethanol from sorted municipal solid waste.

"Edmonton is moving along quite well-according to schedule," Chornet said. "We are well advanced in the engineering phase, and should be entering the construction phase in 2009."

In the future, Chornet said the company will continue to work to improve its technology's yields. "We have a research team that works in the periphery of the commercial team and engineers, who are looking at doping catalysts and improving yields. This is something that will come slowly, but surely."