Environment

Waste-to-Biofuels plant to make gas from garbage

Waste-to-Biofuels plant to mak...
Future site of the Waste-to-Biofuels complex
Future site of the Waste-to-Biofuels complex
View 4 Images
Some of the technology to be used in Enerkem's Waste-to-Biofuels project
1/4
Some of the technology to be used in Enerkem's Waste-to-Biofuels project
The Waste-to-Biofuels process
2/4
The Waste-to-Biofuels process
Future site of the Waste-to-Biofuels complex
3/4
Future site of the Waste-to-Biofuels complex
3D rendering of the Waste-to-Biofuels complex
4/4
3D rendering of the Waste-to-Biofuels complex
View gallery - 4 images

If you’re a fan of the original Back to the Future movie, then you probably liked the scene at the end where Doc Brown used some random household waste to fuel his time-traveling DeLorean. Well, we’re now getting a little bit closer to that being a reality... sort of. While practical flying cars, time travel and cold fusion are still a ways off, the ability to power your car with garbage isn’t. Canadian biofuels firm Enerkem is currently working with the city of Edmonton, Alberta, to convert that city’s municipal waste into ethanol. This will lower the city’s greenhouse gas output, keep much of its waste out of the landfill, and produce a “clean” fuel Doc Brown would be proud of.

The City of Edmonton already diverts 60% of its municipal waste from the landfill. This is done through an extensive home blue-bagging recycling system, along with a waste-sorting facility. At the facility, recyclable materials that missed the blue bags are extracted from household garbage, while organic materials continue into the enormous Edmonton Composting Facility. The 40% that’s left over is what will be used in Enerkem’s Waste-to-Biofuels complex.

The Waste-to-Biofuels process
The Waste-to-Biofuels process

The thermo-chemical process will begin with shredded waste being fed into a gasifier, where its chemical bonds will be broken and its carbon content will become a synthetic gas. That gas will then be cleaned, conditioned, then catalytically-converted into liquid, market-ready ethanol and methanol. Much of the inert material that’s left over will be used as aggregate for construction materials, or even used to power the system itself.

Enerkem claims it will be an energy-positive process, meaning it will create more power than it uses. It should also require minimal water usage, and could even be a net producer of water, as it will be extracting moisture from the waste.

Some of the technology to be used in Enerkem's Waste-to-Biofuels project
Some of the technology to be used in Enerkem's Waste-to-Biofuels project

The Waste-to-Biofuels complex is currently under construction, and is scheduled to be complete and operational by 2011. It is expected to initially produce 36 million liters (9.5 million gallons) of ethanol, from 100,000 tonnes (110,231 US tons) of sorted waste, per year. If it works as planned, only 10% of Edmonton’s municipal waste will end up in the landfill.

View gallery - 4 images
3 comments
Suman M Subramanian
I\'m curious if this is more cost/energy efficient than processing waste-to-electricity via plasma (http://discovermagazine.com/2007/may/the-ultimate-garbage-disposal).
Either way, it\'s great to see new ways to convert waste into something useful.
Will, the tink
Did we not see a much simpler garbage-to-fuel processor come through the info-pipeline here not too long ago? This one looks ginormous and expensive. I wonder how long it would take this plant to pay for itself....
Facebook User
If this plant is as energy-positive as the article says, then it will probably pay for itself in at least a decade or so (just a prediction here okay). If it works then it could possibly spark off other plants like this one.
Well, it\'s nice to see this kind of stuff up and about.