Published on June 9th, 2014 | by Roy L Hales


First Industrial-scale Municipal Solid Waste to Biofuel Facility Opens

June 9th, 2014 by  

Originally published in the ECOreport

Enerkem’s waste-to-biofuels and chemicals facility in Edmonton - courtesy Enerkem
The first industrial-scale municipal solid waste to biofuel facility opened in Edmonton on June 4, 2014. Enerkem’s waste-to-biofuels and chemicals facility will convert 100,000 tonnes of sorted municipal waste per year into biofuels and chemicals. Once the facility is up to full capacity in 2016, the city will be able to divert 90% of its residential waste from landfills.

Alberta Environment Minister Robin Campbell(l), Enerkem’s CEO Vincent Chormet (c) and Mayor Don Iveson Don Iveson (r) at the ribbon cutting – Courtesy Enerkem

Alberta Environment Minister Robin Campbell(l), Enerkem’s CEO Vincent Chormet (c) and Mayor Don Iveson Don Iveson (r) cutting the ribbon – Courtesy Enerkem

“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.

Edmonton is already diverting 60% of its residential waste from landfills.

This compares favorably with other Canadian cities. The city and district of Vancouver diverts 55% of its organic waste from landfills. Toronto diverts 52%, London 44% and Ottawa 40% of its solid waste.

You have to look south of the border to find more impressive statics than Edmonton’s. San Francisco claims to have the highest rate in North America, with the city diverting 80% of all discards, and Portland diverts 85% of its residential waste, but only 58% from the commercial sector.

Edmonton will produce 38 million litres of clean fuels and biochemicals from waste that used to end up in landfills, which will initially be used to produce methanol. The facility will eventually produce enough ethanol to fill the tanks of 400,000 cars with a 5% (E5) blend.

“We believe that this game-changing facility, built in partnership with the City of Edmonton, can become a model for many communities around the world that are looking for a sustainable way to manage waste,” said Vincent Chornet, President and CEO of Enerkem.

The projects origins go back a decade, when a team from what is now known as Alberta Innovates began working with the city of Edmonton to select a technology that will turn municipal solid wastes into power or biofuels.

“The Enerkem thermochemical process had clear advantages over many others,” said Dr. Eddy Isaacs, Chief Executive Officer, Alberta Innovates – Energy and Environment Solutions.

Chornet said, “We break down the waste using heat and convert it into a gas that is as clean as natural gas. Then we convert the gas to liquid methanol — and all that happens in three minutes.”

Edmonton’s decision to go with Enerkem was announced in 2008.

Edmonton’s former mayor, Stephen Mandel, played a central role in shepherding this deal through each of the major milestones.  Don Iveson, who succeeded him in 2013, was initially involved as a city council member.

“We are now so very pleased to see the hard work of planning, developing and testing come to fruition. With the grand opening of the Enerkem Alberta Biofuels facility and the Advanced Energy Research Facility, Alberta has become a global leader in converting municipal wastes into value-added products,”
 said Dr Isaacs.

Vincent Chornet, CEO of Enerkem, speaking at the opening  – courtesy Enekem

“Here we are with one of the last pieces of the puzzle to get us to almost complete diversion from the landfill,” Iverson said Wednesday. “We think 90 per cent of our trash will now go to some higher purpose than being buried in the ground. We’re creating green jobs, we’re creating value and we’re helping support innovation in Alberta and in the Canadian economy.”

Mayor Don Iverson  – Courtesy Enerkem

“This is another great example of Alberta innovation at work, helping to diversify our economy through new, leading-edge technology,” said Robin Campbell, Alberta’s Minister of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development.

Enerkem owns the plant and will handle operations. The city of Edmonton is to supply 100,000 tonnes annually of sorted municipal waste that cannot be composted or recycled.

The final product – Courtesy Enerkem

“We’re paying about 70 dollars a tonne to transport and landfill our material at an outside landfill,” said Jim Schubert, acting director of business planning and central operations with the City of Edmonton. “The cost of the biofuels facility when its fully operational will be around 75 dollars a tonne. So for approximately the same cost we’re going to be turning that material into something useful.”

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About the Author

is the editor of the ECOreport (, a website dedicated to exploring how our lifestyle choices and technologies affect the West Coast of North America and writes for both CleanTechnica and Planetsave on Important Media. He is a research junkie who has written over a thousand articles since he was first published in 1982. Roy lives on Cortes Island, BC, Canada.

  • victorW

    At least these guys have done the technical development the correct way, via lab scale, demo scale then smallish industrial scale. More than can be said for Solena Fuels, with their MSW to fuels “idea”, which is based on nothing but an idea (no, demos, no physical testing etc). VW

  • Sheila Marsh

    So what is it? Is the front-end of this waste to liquids GTL process Pyrolysis or is it Gasification?

    For the past decade, Enerkem has been touting Ethanol & other green chemicals as final liquid products to be produced. So why are they producing Methanol? What exactly are “other green chemicals?”

    What are this firm’s patents? Do they have any?

    I’m reading between the lines here after following news releases from this firm for the last decade. What is being told to the public NOW in their project “turn on” news releases is not the same language as they’ve used for years and years.

    Just curious.


  • Henry WA

    We are given the direct cost of sending to landfill as compared to the cost of production using the waste facility. To complete the picture, it would be nice to know the value of the end product per ton of waste, although even if the value was nil, it would seem the indirect benefits would make the process worthwhile.

  • Rick Kargaard

    This process helps alleviate several problems at once.
    It is increasingly hard to find space for landfills which often increases transportation costs and environmental damage. The NIMBY factor is strong in this case. Ideally this should replace all ocean dumping of garbage.
    My guess is that odors, noise, and traffic could all be reduced somewhat.
    Although the pant is not beautiful, it should be easier to hide than mountains of garbage.

  • Nick Francis

    What is the emission profile of this technology? Is it “completely” clean, or are there atmospheric releases that would be harmful in a more heavily populated city?

    • Jan Veselý

      It is pyrolysis. So outputs are solids (so called half-coke, great chemical absorbent), liquids (oil like substance) and pyrolysis (syn-)gas. All three components have its use and their ratio is determined by the composition of the waste and by process itself (pressure, temperature, oxygen, …). The process is heat intesive, so you need to produce a lot of heat. You usually burn part of the oil or gas. There are plenty of great low-NOx, low-soot gas or liquid burners, you just need to find out the best fitting.
      Only problems of this process is mercury/cadmium/zinc capture and chlorine removal, these metals evaporate during the process and don’t stay in the solid part. You need have active carbon filter in the smokestack.
      The process itself is quite complicated by itself and even more complicated by nonhomogenous nature of the waste, so it has to be a masterpiece of process control techniques.
      But after all this process is much less pollution than waste incineration which much cleaner than coal burning in power plants.

      • Nick Francis

        The Enerkem website describes the Edmonton technology as gasification, different from pyrolysis in that it uses oxygen, albeit in small amounts, and is run at hotter temperatures.

        Gasification seems promising, but few independent studies exist that validate manufacturers’ emissions claims. Comparing it to incineration doesn’t seem helpful since cities like San Francisco are now achieving 80% diversion rates with 90% on the way.

        Why, then, would gasification be worth the investment and potential pollution risk?

        Why aren’t the companies that promote this technology completing peer-reviewed studies that comprehensively analyze the environmental and health impacts of their technology.

        Perhaps they are, but I am not aware of them.

        • Bob_Wallace

          Do you have any information about the affordability of SF’s diversion approach?

          • Nick Francis

            I know that the average monthly residential fee for waste hauling service from Ecology in San Francisco is $34.08/mth, while in Phoenix (where I am) the diversion rate is only 13% and the average residential monthly fee is $26.80.

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