The Mill that Kills Landfill: Enerkem’s waste-to-cellulosic fuels plant starts up

June 5, 2014 |
Enerkem CEO Vincent Chornet leads press conference at the inauguration of Enerkem Alberta Biofuels Inauguration in Edmonton; Seated in front row (l-r): Minister of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development, Government of Alberta, Robin Campbell; Minister of Energy, Government of Alberta, Diana McQueen; and Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson.

Enerkem CEO Vincent Chornet leads press conference at the inauguration of Enerkem Alberta Biofuels Inauguration in Edmonton; Seated in front row (l-r): Minister of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development, Government of Alberta, Robin Campbell; Minister of Energy, Government of Alberta, Diana McQueen; and Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson.

Enerkem launches world’s first commercial-scale waste-to-biofuels and chemicals facility.



10 million gallon plant will produce methanol now, ethanol later. 

As Enerkem CEO Vincent Chornet said in Edmonton yesterday, “This is the beginning of a great journey for Enerkem, for Edmonton and the world.”

Why? In Alberta this week, Enerkem officially inaugurated its first full-scale municipal waste-to-biofuels and chemicals facility in Edmonton, Alberta.

Bottom line for the community? Via this collaboration between Enerkem, the City of Edmonton and Alberta Innovates – Energy and Environment Solutions, Edmonton will increase its residential waste diversion rate to 90%, and is expected to generate net economic spending in the local area of nearly $65 million annually.

Yes, that means that out of every 10 tons of trash, only one will make it to the landfill. And, using this technology, the city will generate up to 38 million liters per year (10 million gallons) of biofuels and grow the local economy.

Enerkem’s full-scale municipal waste-to-biofuels and green chemicals facility during its inauguration in Edmonton, Alberta.

Enerkem’s full-scale municipal waste-to-biofuels and green chemicals facility during its inauguration in Edmonton, Alberta.

“Everyone is watching Edmonton right at this moment,” said Albert’a Minister of the Environment and government floor leader Robin Campbell. “This facility is attracting world attention from cities and municipalities everywhere, to see if it really can be done.”

As Edmonton mayor Don Iveson observed yesterday, “This morning, I thought to myself as I put something in the trash that was non-recyclable, not compostable: it’s going to come here and become biofuels from municipal solid waste. It sounds like science fiction, but it becomes reality today.”

Edmonton’s Mayor Don Iveson takes selfie in front of Enerkem Alberta Biofuels newly launched facility.

Edmonton’s Mayor Don Iveson takes selfie in front of Enerkem Alberta Biofuels newly launched facility.

“This is what happens when we choose to lead and find partners to make it happen,” said Iveson. We can take waste, bury it in increasingly remote and costly landfills, or invest in technology to recover value from that waste. We have built a culture of sustainability, now that will increase diversion of solid waste from 60 to 90% by 2016. It exemplifies what is so exciting about living in Edmonton today. Not only we can keep up, we can lead.”

l-r) Minister of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development, Government of Alberta, Robin Campbell,  Enerkem CEO Vincent Chornet, and Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson cut the ribbon at Enerkem’s municipal waste-to-biofuels and chemicals facility inauguration.

l-r) Minister of Environment and Sustainable Resource
Development, Government of Alberta, Robin Campbell,
Enerkem CEO Vincent Chornet, and Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson cut the ribbon at Enerkem’s municipal waste-to-biofuels and chemicals facility inauguration.

Alberta’s Minister of Energy, Diana McQueen, noted: “We always want to get to commercialization, where where you take an idea off paper and into full-scale. That’s what’s been accomplished here.”

Answers to your questions

Start-up

The start-up of the biorefinery follows a commissioning plan which the company described as “nearing completion”. Biomethanol production will begin progressively during the start-up.

The feedstock

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.

Up next: Varennes

Sustainable Technology Development Canada, through its NextGen Biofuels Fund announced in 2013 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 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, was planned to begin in 2014.

The company is also developing a similar facility in Pontotoc, Mississippi.

Methanol or ethanol?

A module converting the biomethanol into advanced ethanol will be added by the end of 2015. But frankly, Enerkem will be in the methanol business for a while, so long as soaring demand from China keeps methanol prices near their all-time highs.

Other chemicals

After all, the company is Enerkem, not Enerfuel. What’s in store in the product list for Enerkem, here or at other facilities.

“Right now there’s pull from ethanol in the US, because of the RFS and the LCFS,” Chornet told the Digest. “Globally there’s a lot of pull with methanol. We have a significant research team, and in our research facilities here in Edmonton or in Westbury we looking at a number of products. We have a few JDAs in place, for example, acrylic acid. We have a lot of demand and interest but it’s a time to be careful and selective.

Future projects

“We have great opportunities to move forward on a long list of projects,” Chornet told the Digest, “but you know we hate giving dates. But generally speaking, in the next weeks and months we should be at a point where Enerkem can consider the future. I expect we’ll start that thinking by year end, but we may wait.”

Financing the company, and its projects

The company’s equity investment raised in 2013 totaled $87 million. Last summer, Enerkem closed a $50 million financing round. Investissement Quebec joined Waste Management of Canada, among other investors, In January 2013, 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 last year, and could score up to $40 million in a repayable contribution from SDTC for its Quebec JV with Greenfield Ethanol.

Enerkem nearly opted for an IPO two years ago. What’s the capital outlook look like?

“We’re not really IPO driven, we’ve been in the position with our outstanding group of investors to be able to fund the company privately.” Capital raising this year? “Nothing this year, not really,” said Chornet.

The business model going forward

“For us, Edmonton was about building the infrastructure and the resources to prefab or modularize the construction,” said Chronet. “So what we will have in most cases is a straight license of the technology, and in addition there will be the opportunity to sell the proprietary equipment we manufacture.”

Scope of job creation

This facility, operated by Enerkem Alberta Biofuels, is among the world’s first commercial facilities to be built for the production of renewable chemicals and advanced biofuels. During its construction, more than 600 direct and indirect jobs were created for the modular manufacturing of the facility’s systems and their on-site assembly.

More reaction from the principals

The announcement was made jointly by Enerkem CEO Vincent Chornet, Mayor Don Iveson from the City of Edmonton, and the Honourable Robin Campbell, Minister of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development, and Government House Leader, representing the Government of Alberta.

“Canadians are innovators, said Enerkme chief Vincent Chornet. “This technology has the potential to spur to transform the chemical, fuels and waste management industries. It’s been a Canada-wide effort; there are no overnight successes. It takes relentless employees., and dedication and vision from partners like Edmonston and Alberta. It takes years to develop, years of relentless work. We work long days, and many weekends. So I salute Edmonston as a model for the world, and our 170 dedicated employees, who come every day to work with their hearts and brains and keep motivated.

“We are proud of deploying in Edmonton our home grown technology.”

“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, said Mayor Don Iveson. 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, said Honourable Robin Campbell, Minister of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development, and Government House Leader for the Government of Alberta. This is another great example of Alberta innovation at work, helping to diversify our economy through new, leading-edge technology.”

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