Trash to Treasure – From Canada to Europe, Enerkem turns trash to cash

February 17, 2018 |

In Canada, more big news is coming out of Enerkem with the latest waste-to-chemistry project in Rotterdam to be the first of its kind in Europe to provide a sustainable alternative solution for non-recyclable wastes, converting waste plastics and other mixed wastes into new raw materials.


In case you’ve been hibernating this winter and don’t know who Enerkem is, their technology converts non-recyclable municipal solid waste (i.e. garbage) into advanced biofuels and renewable chemicals. Its disruptive proprietary technology converts non-recyclable, non-compostable municipal solid waste into methanol, ethanol and other widely-used chemicals.

Headquartered in Montreal (QC), Canada, Enerkem operates a full-scale commercial facility in Alberta (the world’s first commercial biorefinery to use municipal solid waste to produce methanol and ethanol) as well as an innovation center in Quebec. Enerkem’s facilities are built as prefabricated systems based on the company’s modular manufacturing infrastructure that can be deployed globally. And now with this Europe project, that is just what they are doing.

Check out the Digest’s latest Multi-Slide Guide to Enerkem here.

The investment partners

A consortium of companies, including Air Liquide, AkzoNobel Specialty Chemicals, Enerkem and the Port of Rotterdam, signed a project development agreement covering initial investments in an advanced waste-to-chemistry facility in Rotterdam.

The initial investments, which cover detailed engineering, the setup up of a dedicated joint venture and completing the permitting process, will be worth €9 million (about $11 million). The consortium aims to take the final investment decision (FID) for the estimated €200-million (about $248 million) project later in 2018 and has appointed Dutch Rabobank as the lead advisor for the financing process.

Realization of the project is supported by the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs & Climate policy, which have agreed to develop mechanisms and regulation that will help bring this new technology to full scale to support the low-carbon transition of the Dutch economy. The waste-to-chemistry project is also supported by the City of Rotterdam, the Province of Zuid-Holland and InnovationQuarter, the regional development agency.

The specs

The facility will convert up to 360,000 tons of waste into 220,000 tons (270 million litres) of ‘green’ methanol. As an equivalent, this represents the total annual waste of more than 700,000 households and represents a CO2 emission savings of about 300,000 tons.

“This is an important milestone for the project and a significant step toward implementing a sustainable and circular chemical industry,” says Marco Waas, Director RD&I at AkzoNobel Specialty Chemicals, who leads the consortium’s Steering Committee. “The agreement comes at a very appropriate time given the current challenges in plastics recycling in Europe. We can convert non-recyclable waste, into methanol, an essential raw material for many everyday products, including low carbon transportation fuel. Not only can this be used in the existing supply chains and replace fossil sources, but it also avoids CO2 emissions otherwise produced by burning waste.”

The facility will be built within the Botlek area of the Port of Rotterdam using Enerkem’s proprietary technology, and will convert non-recyclable mixed waste, including plastics, into syngas and then into clean methanol for use in the chemical industry and for the transportation sector.

Today, methanol is generally produced from natural gas or coal. The plant will have two production lines, or twice the input capacity of Enerkem’s commercial-scale plant in Edmonton, Canada. It will benefit from the state-of-the-art infrastructure available within the Port of Rotterdam, as well as synergies with Air Liquide (large industries) for supplying the required oxygen and together with AkzoNobel, the raw material hydrogen. AkzoNobel also acts as a customer for the methanol.

“This is another exciting and important step getting us closer to launching the construction of our very first advanced biorefinery facility in Europe in 2018,” says Vincent Chornet, President and Chief Executive Officer of Enerkem. “As part of this innovative consortium, Enerkem will be the technology provider, lead contractor as well as an equity partner in the project.”

This comes just after Enerkem’s monster $223 million investment round – their largest to date, and just about anyone’s largest to date, making them the “Tech with the Midas touch.”

We should have known some big news was coming when, as reported in the Digest on February 6th, CEO Vincent Chornet said, “This new and significant financing will help accelerate our growth and further expand project development and implementation. Now that we have launched the world’s first commercial-scale bioethanol operation in Edmonton, we can focus our efforts on building a strong circular economy for communities around the world by deploying new facilities.”

Bottom line

Now we know that something big in Europe was coming down the pike, but we never expected it to be announced and happening this soon.

This is fantastic news for the future of waste to biofuels and chemicals as it means Enerkem’s technology really can be deployed globally. Their prefabricated systems make it feasible for municipal solid waste to become a valuable commodity anywhere in the world. We will never look at trash the same way again.

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