GreenField Ethanol and Enerkem Partner on Commercial MSW-to-Ethanol Facility in Alberta

29 June 2008
 Enerkem’s four-step process uses gasification and catalytic synthesis to convert waste to liquid fuels. Click to enlarge.

The city of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, has signed a 25-year agreement with GreenField Ethanol, Canada’s largest ethanol producer and Enerkem, the developer of a thermochemical (gasification and catalytic synthesis) process to produce synthetic fuels, for a facility to produce biofuels from municipal solid waste (MSW).

The C$70 million facility will initially produce 36 million liters (9.5 million gallons US) of ethanol per year, according to the partners. As part of the agreement, the City of Edmonton will supply a minimum of 100,000 tonnes of sorted municipal solid waste per year.  Site of Enerkem/GreenField Ethanol future plant in Edmonton (indicated in orange on this layout). Click to enlarge. Greenfield Ethanol and Enerkem will be jointly responsible for financing the project and for constructing, owning, and operating the plant which will be located at the Edmonton Waste Management Centre in Edmonton, Alberta. The City of Edmonton and the Government of Alberta through the Alberta Energy Research Institute (AERI) are contributing$20 million to the facility. The City of Edmonton will also contribute $50 million to a related processing facility and research facility. AERI’s total contribution to all the components is$29 million.

This plant is the first to be announced by Greenfield Ethanol and Enerkem since their announcement earlier this year of their partnership to jointly design, build and operate commercial next-generation ethanol plants.

Enerkem also is building a smaller industrial-scale demonstration plant in Westbury, Québec, which is due to be operational in the fall of 2008. The plant will produce up to 5 million liters (1.3 million gallons) of cellulosic ethanol from creosoted electricity poles and other waste materials.

Enerkem has been operating a pilot plant since 2003. This pilot plant has logged more than 3,000 hours of operation, using more than 20 types of feedstock, ranging from sorted municipal solid waste to wood chips, to produce methanol and second-generation ethanol.

Enerkem uses a four-step thermochemical process for the conversion of waste to fuels:

1. Feedstock pre-treatment. The feedstock is dried, sorted, and shredded, and then stored in a container that is connected to the gasifier via a front-end feeding system.

2. Gasification. Enerkem uses a bubbling fluidized bed reactor with a front-end feeding system that is capable of handling fluffy material with no need to pelletize it. Slurries or liquids can also be fed into the gasifier through appropriately designed injectors. The gasification is carried out using air as a partial oxidation agent or using oxygen-enriched air, with the oxygen-enrichment level tailored to the desired composition of the synthetic gas. The presence of steam at a specific partial pressure is also part of the process.

The gasifier operates at low severities (temperatures of approximately 700º C and pressures below 10 atm), which allows for the use of known, available, and inexpensive construction materials and refractories.

3. Enerkem says that up to the production of the syngas, its technology uses only around 10% of the energy produced for its internal process needs. The company says that it can produce approximately right times more net energy than a high-temperature technology such as plasma gasification.

4. Cleaning and conditioning. The resulting syngas is cleaned and conditioned for use with existing and known catalysts. This is accomplished through a sequential conditioning system, which includes cyclonic removal of inerts, secondary carbon/tar conversion, heat recovery units, and reinjection of tar/fines into the reactor. The gas that is produced by this process is ready for conversion into liquid fuel.

5. Conversion into liquid fuel. Using a sequential catalytic conversion process, the syngas is finally converted into high-value, market-ready fuels and chemicals. Products such as methanol can be sold directly or used as intermediate products in the creation of other products, such as ethanol, synthetic diesel, dimethyl ether, and synthetic gasoline.

 The Enerkem process supports a variety of product pathways. Click to enlarge.

The integration of bubbling fluidized bed technology and advanced gas conditioning, allows for the use of a wide array of feedstocks while achieving a synthetic gas as clean as natural gas and ready for subsequent processing into synthetic fuels. Catalytic synthesis can produce second-generation ethanol; ogliomerization can produce synthetic gasoline; DME synthesis can produce DME, and Fischer-Tropsch catalysis can produce synthetic diesel.

Enerkem says that its process can convert 1 tonne of waste into up to 360 liters (95 gallons US) of ethanol; 100 liters (26 gallons) of potable water; and 150 kg (330 lbs) of char and gasifier inerts.

There are also a number of other MSW to biofuels development projects underway, using different production pathways. Coskata, for example (one of the higher profile ventures because of the investment from GM), uses a combined thermo-biochemical process: it gasifies waste, including, theoretically, MSW, but then ferments the resulting syngas to fuel. (Earlier post.)

Blue Fire Ethanol, which uses a concentrated acid hydrolysis technology to pretreat the MSW, will receive up to $40 million from the Department of Energy (DOE) for a plant in Southern California sited on an existing landfill that will produce about 19 million gallons of ethanol a year. As feedstock, the plant would use 700 tons per day of sorted green waste and wood waste from landfills. (Earlier post.) Comments Next they will be mining landfills for energy. Sounds good! An excellent way to recycle waste using petro-dollars. A$5/barrel Fed carbon tax (equivalent to $15 -$20 million/day) could be used to expand this type of facilities to all Canadian Cities in the next 10 years. With oil at almost $150/barrel, producers (and end users) would barely notice it. I hope this is reasonable close to being profitable. Gotta be much better than burning corn. Can't wait til they complain of a garbage shortage. If you've seen WALL-E, you know that the Buy N' Large world of the future will ruin the earth with trash! Go Greenfield and Enerkem! This process doesn't talk about how much power is leftover to sell to the grid. They also talk about the need to sort the feedstock unlike Plasma Gasification. There also seems to be a lot of Government funding. I see that the Plasma plants proposed by Plasco. GeoPlasma and even EuroPlasma do not require taxpayer funds. One more comment please. The coming new cars like my new Volt(When it gets here in 2010) will run about 90% on Electric Power! OH CANADA It’s time for market forces to do it work. The tariffs that favor the production of corn based ethanol distilled in the US must be removed. The corn ethanol industry should stand toe to toe with interactional competition to see which technology is best. The corn ethanol industry in the US is mature as witnessed by the vast impact that it is having on the volume of corn used and the price of corn on the world market. The US corn ethanol tariffs now do more harm then good. The Canadian alternative fuel industry needs to be advanced and supported by international capital. This will happen when the US market is opened wide to Canadian alternative energy products. With all the speculation money chasing petroleum, just a tiny faction is more than enough to foster an explosion of alternate fuel productivity in the fields and forests on the Canadian countryside. This competition between fossil fuel and Biofuel will put downward pressure on gas prices everywhere. Canada will emerge as the Saudi Arabia of alternative energy to the advantage of the whole North American continent. The supply lines between Canada and the US are short and low cost. This connection should be used to continue the mutual relationship between Canadian energy and American capital. The myopic political considerations of mid west senators need to be broadened to foster the common good on the North American continent as a whole. Next they will be mining landfills for energy. This is already being done, using methane from anaerobic decomposition. Landfills are now being designed to accelerate this decomposition (by appropriate management of moisture levels.) The most immediately practical material to mine from landfills, by the way, is the soil used to cover layers of garbage in the landfill. Recovering and reusing this material reduces costs and increases the capacity of the facility. Sorting garbage, good work for axil and Don. As far as the corn ethanol subsidizes go in the US. the 2% of Americans that are involved in Grain Farming have more political power than the rest of us. Farmers in the US have never done better and the US passed a 100 billion dollar farm aid bill. Our next president being from IL won't help. Canada's negotiators accepted the inclusion of a proportionality clause into the NAFTA agreement. That proportionality clause requires Canada, in perpetuity, to make available to the US an amount of oil and natural gas equivalent to our own domestic usage. If and when the NAFTA agreement is renegotiated, this proportionality clause should be revoked to foster the greening of American energy. Canada should push for a special Biofuel trading agreement to build its alternative fuel business. This will give US politicos political cover to rid the US of this horrendous food to fuel disaster. Axil & Don: The future will not be business as ususal. Ice vehicles, oil and NG furnaces and appliances, coal fired power plants and inefficient corn ethanol plants are on their way out. In the longer term, much more electrification is the way to go. It may take 30 to 50 years, but it will come. Small home based, water-air fuel cells may eventually be part of it alongside wind, sun, cleaner nuclear power plants etc. Burning accumulated fossil fuel in inefficient ICE machines will have to go. The sooner the better. Meanwhile, fossil fuel users should pay for all the damages they do and be brought to justice if they refuse to pay, as cigarettes pushers were. The claims and damages may be as much as 100 to 1000 folds. "Meanwhile, fossil fuel users should pay for all the damages they do and be brought to justice if they refuse to pay, as cigarettes pushers were. The claims and damages may be as much as 100 to 1000 folds." Use any plastics? Any fertilizer? Ever ride in a car or plane or train? HarveyD, somebody's sending out silly posts and signing your name. The U.S. corn ethanol industry is displacing 9.2 BILLION GALLONS of fossil fuel, annually, and reducing the cost of All Gasoline by at least$0.50/gal. It will soon be 13.6 Billion Gallons, annually.

How much is this going to produce, again?

@ kum dollison

Granted, ethanol is an ideal replacement for gasoline. It follows then that any ethanol produced in the world should be allowed into the US at the lowest price possible; without tariffs: i.e. Brazilian ethanol. To further the interest and prosperity of all Americans, the US should encourage the development of all ethanol industries everywhere in the world and ethanol importation, especially from Canada.

I suspect this process will use 'good' garbage not 'bad' garbage. It may have to exclude PVC and other chlorinated organics, to hand remove alfoil not susceptible to magnetic separation, to shred large lumps and dry out the moisture. None of this will be mentioned in the energy return figures.

@ ToppaTom

No need for claims and damages. The future, in all its wisdom, will select the sinners and the saints; the winners and the losers in a warming world.

One big loser will be the US with many cities and states under the sea; vast tracks of farmland will be lost to drought and flood, and many western states will depopulate due to constant fire, extreme heat, and lack of drinking water.

On the other hand, Canada’s climate will moderate; the forests and farmland will expand northward; Canada’s ice free coastline will vastly increase; and commerce and employment will explode.

However, with all the new Canadian prosperity, illegal immigration of the increasingly desperate and destitute inhabitants on the south will be a growing nuisance.

ToppaTom:

Burning liquid fuels at the rate of almost 100 million barrels/day (90%+ fossil type) is not sustainable, and most people realize it.

The combined secondary effects from burning all that oil + coal + NG + Ethanol (from all sources) are as bad as smoking a pack a day and many people realize it.

If tobacco pushers were called to pay damages, why could we not apply the same logic for dirty liquid fuel + coal + NG pushers?

Not only will most fossil sources run dry in less than 50 years but agro-fuels will never be sufficient to produce much more than 20% of what we currently use.

Regardless, if we like it or not, we will have to wean ourselves from most liquid fuel, coal and NG consumption. Having to pay for damages created is one way to accellerate the weaning process. We, the good people, understand quicker and better when it hits our pocketbook. Look what happened to cigarrettes sales.

Since we will need more and more energy to maintain our level of mobility and demanding life style, we all know (at least we should know) that we will have to turn to or switch to cleaner, more sustainable energy sources in the near future. The required transistion could be accellerated by having the current polluting ways pay for the damages they do.

The damages could be paid with a progressive but appropriate carbon tax or equivalent.

Alternatively, we could joint the specualtors and Oil producers and convince the good people that $400+/barrel for oil is barely a fair market price. That may be equivalent to the proposed damages via a carbon tax but the$ bilions would not go to the same place.

Which method would you prefer?

How can we re-invest into the new (oil free) economy by importing Oil at \$400+/barrel?

We have a choice to make. Either we accellerate the transition by paying for it or we continue importing oil until all sources run dry.

Axil, since when is ethanol an ideal replacement for gasoline??? Butanol would be, but not ethanol. Why do you suppose GM is spending big advertising dollars on being E85 capable, if its a "ideal replacement" for gasoline.

Kum Dollison, if ethanool is replacing 9.2 billion gallons of gasoline a year, why do we have such a problem with gasoline today, and why is the prices so high?

Back on topic, I think this is great technology. I do worry about an industrial accident in a plant like this, with creosote posts in this instance, catching fire. The explosion would be felt for miles, and this feedstock would burn for weeks. That would sure add alot of CO2 to the atmosphere......

@HarveyD:

I agree that using part of the energy in an expensive (subsidized) process to produce a high quality fuel that will not ruin a modern ICE is stupid as compared to directly burning the stuff (garbage, corn, whatever) in a power plant and using the electricity to drive an electric car.

Therefore logic dictates that biofuels are only an intermediate 'solution', as long as we don't have electric cars.

I suspect part of the problem with tight oil supplies has to do with the big producers seeing the "writing on the wall" as it pertains to future markets for petroleum. As battery technology matures and fuel cells improve and become more competitive, the demand for petroleum will begin to drop. Why invest billions to add capacity that won't be needed.

As far as landfill to ethanol goes, I'm glad to see these plants finally getting built. Not only will they produce usable fuel, but they'll help recover materials like metal that would otherwise be buried for good.

What I don't get is why are we still using corn for ethanol when we could be using sweet sorghum? It takes less fertilizer and water, produces plenty of fermentable sugars, and will be even more productive when we get good with converting cellulose to ethanol. It's like sugar cane but will grow in a good section of the US.

I suspect part of the problem with tight oil supplies has to do with the big producers seeing the "writing on the wall" as it pertains to future markets for petroleum. As battery technology matures and fuel cells improve and become more competitive, the demand for petroleum will begin to drop. Why invest billions to add capacity that won't be needed.

As far as landfill to ethanol goes, I'm glad to see these plants finally getting built. Not only will they produce usable fuel, but they'll help recover materials like metal that would otherwise be buried for good.

What I don't get is why are we still using corn for ethanol when we could be using sweet sorghum? It takes less fertilizer and water, produces plenty of fermentable sugars, and will be even more productive when we get good with converting cellulose to ethanol. It's like sugar cane but will grow in a good section of the US.

"Slurries or liquids can also be fed into the gasifier through appropriately designed injectors" ... "The presence of steam at a specific partial pressure is also part of the process."

Does this mean that the process tolerates a higher percentage of water compared with the plasma synth gas process? If so, algae could be an excellent feedstock.

1000kg of waste generates also about 150 kg of char. That's a lot of the carbon ending as char. so even if we don't need the fuel, it would be an relatively efficient method for carbon sequestration.
If biomass is used, this agrichar (= terra preta) could be used as to improve the soil-quality, at the same time 'definitely' sequestering large amounts of carbon

"One big loser will be the US with many cities and states under the sea; vast tracks of farmland will be lost to drought and flood, and many western states will depopulate due to constant fire, extreme heat, and lack of drinking water."

Quality brimstone! Where do I send my donation?

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