McFly! Enerkem begins commissioning of garbage-to-fuels commercial plant in Alberta

December 5, 2013 |

back-to-the-futureIn Back to the Future, waste-to-energy fuel systems were supposed to be common by 2015. 

Looks like 2014 might be the better date. Here’s Enerkem, going commercial, to show the way.

In Canada, Enerkem announced that commissioning is underway at its commercial-scale municipal waste-to-biofuels and chemicals facility in Edmonton. Construction of the facility is nearing completion and Enerkem will complete the commissioning during the next few months. Production of biomethanol will start gradually during this period. An ethanol module will be added in 2014.

This facility is a collaboration between Enerkem, the City of Edmonton and Alberta Innovates – Energy and Environment Solutions. When fully operational, it will have a production capacity of up to 38 million litres per year and will help the City of Edmonton divert 90% of the residential waste stream from landfill.

The City of Edmonton and Enerkem Alberta Biofuels have signed a 25-year agreement to convert 100,000 tonnes of the City’s municipal solid waste into biofuels annually. The garbage to be used cannot be recycled or composted.

Enerkem Alberta Biofuels is among the world’s first commercial facilities to be built for the production of advanced biofuels. During construction, more than 600 direct and indirect jobs were created across North America for the modular manufacturing of its parts and systems and on-site assembly.

Financing the company, and its projects

This summer, Enerkem closed a $50 million financing round. Investissement Quebec joined Waste Management of Canada, among other investors, as the company’s equity investment raised in 2013 now comes in at USD $87 million.

In January of this year, Enerkem closed a $37.5 million financing with Waste Management of Canada Corporation, a subsidiary of Waste Management, and EB Investments for Enerkem Alberta Biofuels L.P. Also, the company picked up $3 million in Canadian grants this year, and could score up to $40 million in a repayable contribution from SDTC for its Quebec JV with Greenfield Ethanol.

Up next: The Varennes project

In Canada, Sustainable Technology Development Canada, through its NextGen Biofuels Fund announced earlier this year that it could be investing up to $40 million in the Vanerco project – a joint venture of Enerkem and Greenfield Ethanol, slated for construction in Varennes, Quebec. SDTC made an initial investments is $734,500, in the form of a repayable contribution, and the final amount that could go up to $39.8 million.

Overall, its a 10 million gallon, 38 million liter waste-to-energy project that will use The non recyclable waste from institutional, commercial and industrial sectors, and from construction and demolition debris.  Construction of the facility, which will use Enerkem’s proprietary waste-to-biofuels technology, is planned to begin in 2014.

Enerkem background

Company description: With its proprietary thermochemical technology, Enerkem converts abundantly available municipal solid waste (mixed textiles, plastics, fibers, wood and other non-recyclable waste materials) into chemical-grade syngas, and then methanol, ethanol and other chemical intermediates that form everyday products.

By using waste instead of fossil fuels, Enerkem addresses the growing demand for renewable energy sources and chemicals, while reducing landfill volumes and greenhouse gas emissions. Headquartered in Montreal, Canada, the company currently operates both a pilot and a demonstration facility in Québec, has its first waste-to-biofuels full-scale commercial plant under construction in Edmonton, Alberta, and is developing similar facilities in Pontotoc, Mississippi and in Varennes, Quebec.

Owners: Enerkem is a private company founded in 2000 by its current senior management. It is majority-owned by institutional, clean-technology and industrial investors, including Rho Ventures, Braemar Energy Ventures, Waste Management (NYSE:WM), Valero (NYSE: VLO), BDR Capital, Cycle Capital, The Westly Group, Fondaction CSN and Quince Associates, L.P.

3 Top Milestones for 2009-12

1. Commercial facility developments: Started construction of its first full-scale commercial plant in Edmonton, Alberta (Canada) and continued development of similar commercial projects in the U.S. and Canada including a facility in Pontotoc, Mississippi

2. Technological achievement and scale-up: Successful production of chemical-grade syngas and biomethanol at Enerkem’s demonstration facility in Westbury. These achievements further validated the company’s capability of producing a chemical-grade syngas from waste and converting it into alcohols using well-established catalytic reactions, as already proven at Enerkem’s pilot plant in Sherbrooke.

3. Financial support for growth: From 2009 to 2011, Enerkem has raised a total of US$160 million in financing, both at the corporate and project subsidiary levels. Waste Management and Valero joined as strategic investors in the company. Enerkem was also awarded financial support (cost-share program and loan guarantee) for a total of US$130 million from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for a U.S. plant in Mississippi.

3 Major Milestone Goals for 2013-15

1. Began ethanol production from waste at Westbury demonstration facility (in addition to the ethanol already produced at its pilot facility before) – announced June 7, 2012: click here for news release

2. Beginning of operations at Edmonton waste-to-biofuels facility – expected in 2013. Expected to ready the facility for methanol production in 2013 and then to convert it to produce ethanol from the methanol.

3. Construction of Varennes facility expected to begin by start of 2014 – project announced February 6, 2012: click here for news release

Reaction from Enerkem on start-up of commissioning

“Beginning the commissioning of front-end components at Enerkem Alberta Biofuels is a major milestone and we are proud of all the work accomplished to date”, said Vincent Chornet, President and CEO of Enerkem. “We also believe that this game-changing facility, built in partnership with the City of Edmonton, can become a model for many communities around the world that are looking for a sustainable way to manage waste.”

The bottom line

For now, it’s methanol – later is ethanol. Range Fuels stumbled at this step a few years back, also moving to ethanol from a methanol product. So, we’ll all be watching this project closely — and former Range fans will be holding their breath.

If all goes as expected, it’s fuel, at scale, cellulosic, based on municipal solid waste. Garbage to fuel – just like “Back to the Future” taught us to expect. And, funny enough, in the BTTF fictional universe, waste to fuels was available commercially in 2015 — the timing is a remarkable coincidence.

Or, perhaps Marty McFly saw it coming all the time.

More on Enerkem, here.

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