Waste to environmental treasure – the Enerkem story

For centuries, alchemists searched for a way to turn lead into gold.

Beginning in 2006, Enerkemexternal link icon has searched for ways to transform solid household waste into biofuels on a commercial scale. Unlike the alchemists, however, Enerkem has actually found scientific success here in Alberta.Enerkem's Municipal Waste-to-Biofuels facility in Edmonton

photo Courtesy of Enerkem, Municipal Waste-to-Biofuels and Chemicals facility in Edmonton, Alberta

“I have seen firsthand tremendous support in Alberta for game-changing technologies that could have significant positive environmental impact worldwide,” says David Lynch, Enerkem’s general manager of research and development. “Alberta has been very progressive with greenhouse gas avoidance – a real champion.”

Those years of painstaking research have resulted in the company’s first full-scale commercial waste-to-biofuels plant, located at the Edmonton Waste Management Centreexternal link icon . The plant opened June 4, 2014 and will convert 115,000 tonnes of waste to 38 million litres of bioethanol per year once it is in full production. The plant started making methanol in 2016 and in 2017 completed the installation of equipment to convert the methanol into higher-priced ethanol.

The bioethanol is blended with gasoline to meet biofuel requirements and, more importantly, reduces greenhouse gas emissions and pollution.

“If you put that into a five per cent blend with gasoline, that is enough to fuel 400,000 cars per year,” says Lynch. “And it’s just from garbage that was going to landfill, which is a pretty incredible evolution.”

The plant will also produce biomethanol, which is used to make windshield washer fluid and possibly other products such as bioplastics.

Enerkem’s technology fits with the City of Edmonton’s efforts to find sustainable alternatives to landfill. The waste management centre currently diverts 60 per cent of municipal waste from landfill by recycling and composting. Enerkem’s operations will divert a further 30 per cent. The hope is that eventually there will be no need to landfill garbage.

In addition to the partnership with the city, support from Alberta Innovatesexternal link icon and Alberta Energy helped set up the game-changing Edmonton plant. Lynch says the support from the partners and the province’s strong entrepreneurial spirit made Alberta the right choice for his company.

“Having the pioneering spirit and the willingness to try new things is a game-changer for a lot of companies,” he says. “That’s one thing that really differentiates Alberta and Edmonton from others. We’ve had a great experience starting off in Alberta. I would encourage any other investors or new companies to give it a try. Alberta’s a great place to do business.”

For more information, visit Enerkem.