Fuel for Thought

One city’s waste is one company’s treasure. For Enerkem Inc., that treasure was a new round of financing totalling $76.3 million, as the company continues to make steady advances at its Edmonton biofuel facility.

The Canadian company partnered with the City of Edmonton and Alberta Innovates to initiate the Enerkem Alberta Biofuels facility project in 2014. The plant, which converts household waste that is non-recyclable and non-compostable into biofuel, was recently expanded to produce 13 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol annually and will ultimately produce 36 million litres of ethanol per year at full capacity. That is enough to fuel 450,000 cars annually.

“We’re still in ramp-up mode, but we have a long series of internal objectives to follow and we’re on track to meet each one as scheduled,” says Michel Chornet, Enerkem’s executive vice-president of project execution and plant operations.

Enerkem has already met several objectives. In 2017, the Edmonton facility received approval from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to sell the ethanol stateside, making it the first municipal waste-to-cellulosic ethanol plant to be awarded the status. Additionally, Enerkem closed a new round of financing totalling $76.3 million in April 2019, from existing investors as well as from a new investor – Canada’s largest oil producer, Suncor Energy Inc. The additional capital will help continue the development of its projects both globally and in Edmonton, Alberta, and Canada.

Enerkem’s advancements are good news for Edmonton city officials. As 2019 drew to a close, the city’s long-term goal of diverting 90 percent – or 100,000 tonnes – of its annual waste from landfills is coming closer to being achieved.

The benefits of the diversion plan are substantial. The plant will save the cost of hauling garbage and paying fees at the Ryley Landfill, approximately 90 kilometres east of Edmonton. According to Enerkem, the facility also created over 750 combined direct and indirect construction and permanent jobs, and enabled an increase of $65 million in net economic spending in the local area every year.

Alberta’s capital city will also benefit from the project diverting the methane normally produced by waste sent to landfill, further reducing greenhouse gas emissions methane. Additionally, while 35 percent of the carbon in the garbage will be transformed into ethanol at the plant, the other half will be used as heat during the conversion process. Finally, when the ethanol is mixed into gasoline, it will reduce the amount of fossil fuels required to power 
a vehicle.

“The Edmonton plant has already produced and sold commercial-grade methanol, and with our objectives being met and the EPA approval in place, we can state confidently that full conversion capacity is within our reach,” says Chornet. “Exciting times are ahead.”