Enerkem: Biofuels Digest’s 2014 5-Minute Guide

February 12, 2014 |

Company description: Enerkem develops biofuels and chemicals from waste. 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.


Landed #14 in the 50 Hottest Companies in Bioenergy

Landed #19 in the 30 Hottest Companies in Renewable Chemicals

Biofuels Digest Awards

2013: Project of the Year (Commercial scale – Thermochemical).

Major Investors

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.

In June 2013, Enerkem closed a CAD $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. Said Vincent Chornet, president and CEO of Enerkem, “As we are finalizing the construction of the Enerkem Alberta Biofuels facility in Edmonton and developing our next facilities, we take this new corporate equity investment as a vote of confidence in Enerkem’s growth strategy”.

Canada helps with financing. In September 2013, Sustainable Technology Development Canada indicated that, through its NextGen Biofuels Fund, it could be investing just shy of $40 million in the Vanerco project – a joint venture of Enerkem and Greenfield Ethanol, slated for construction in Varennes, Quebec. The initial investments is $734,500, that will support the initial development of the facility as 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.

Top Milestones for 2009-13

  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.
  4. Began ethanol production from waste at Westbury demonstration facility (in addition to the ethanol already produced at its pilot facility before) – announced June 7, 2012click here for news release
  5. In December 2013, 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.

Major Milestone Goals for 2014-15

  1. Steady-state operations at the first commercial in Edmonton.
  2. Construction of Varennes facility expected to begin by start of 2014 – project announced February 6, 2012. Enerkem, in partnership with GreenField, intends to build a facility that will convert 100,000 metric tonnes per year of urban waste in 38 million litres of cellulosic ethanol. This ethanol can be used to produce transportation fuels. The Enerkem thermo-chemical process, which is currently being demonstrated in Wesbury, QC with support from SDTC’s SD Tech FundTM, includes feedstock preparation, gasification of biomass, syngas conditioning and catalytic synthesis of ethanol – the steps necessary to convert waste to ethanol. The gasification capacity scale-up factor is seven times from Westbury to this facility.

Business Model: Owner-operator / Technology licensor.

Enerkem is quickly moving towards commercialization with full-scale biofuels plants it will build, own and operate. Enerkem builds its facilities near the raw material supply sites, and uses the end waste that would otherwise be landfilled. The plants are compact, modular and scalable for ease of replication. They are based on a standardized system. In order to accelerate market penetration, Enerkem also plans to sell systems utilizing its proprietary technology platform to strategic partners in North America and internationally. It has entered into strategic development agreements with Waste Management and Valero.

Competitive Edge: Enerkem is uniquely positioned to recover the abundant supply of non-recyclable waste to profitably produce second-generation biofuels and green chemicals. Its waste-based biofuels provide one of the most advanced solutions to the growing world demand for renewable biofuels, while also addressing the challenges associated with waste disposal and GHG emissions.

The company today produces methanol and cellulosic ethanol from waste, using its proprietary thermochemical technology platform. Its Westbury demonstration facility is one of the largest thermochemical facilities to process heterogeneous waste material as feedstock.

Enerkem is a leader in the advanced biofuels sector. Its full-scale commercial waste-to-biofuels facility currently under construction in Edmonton, Alberta, is part of the first wave of cellulosic biofuels projects in the world.

Enerkem’s business model and technology platform are expected to generate competitive production cost economics. Using MSW as a feedstock provides a cost advantage as the company is paid to use the material. With its modular, copy-exact and scalable approach, Enerkem is expected to further reduce operating and capital costs as it builds larger facilities and benefit from economies of scale and increased energy efficiency. Also, Enerkem’s proprietary thermochemical technology operates at low-severity conditions which significantly reduce operating and capital costs due to lower temperature, pressure and energy requirements.

The company also plans to continue to innovate and deploy new products: the chemical-grade syngas produced by Enerkem can be used to create chemical intermediates that form a wide range of everyday products, such as paints, coatings for textiles, and perfumes.

Research, or Manufacturing Partnerships or Alliances.

R&D partnerships:

  • University of Sherbrooke
  • Alberta Innovates
  • U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory
  • Natural Resources Canada

Strategic partnerships:

  • Waste Management
  • Valero Energy Corporation
  • GreenField Ethanol

Stage: Commercial – Enerkem’s first full-scale commercial facility in Edmonton, AB (Canada) is currently in commissioning.

More on the company.

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Category: 5-Minute Guide

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