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Volume 86 Issue 27 | p. 9 | News of The Week
Issue Date: July 7, 2008

Fuel From Garbage

Canadian facility will be first to produce ethanol from solid waste on an industrial scale
Department: Business | Collection: Climate Change, Sustainability
News Channels: Environmental SCENE

Two Canadian companies have won government backing for what they say will be the world's first facility to convert municipal solid waste into ethanol on an industrial scale.

The $70 million plant will be built in Edmonton, Alberta, by GreenField Ethanol, Canada's largest ethanol producer, and Enerkem, a Quebec-based biofuels technology company. The city of Edmonton and the Alberta Energy Research Institute (AERI) will contribute $20 million and the two companies the rest. The city will also put $50 million into separate waste processing and research facilities.

The technology comes from Enerkem, which has research ties to Quebec's University of Sherbrooke. Enerkem's ethanol process sorts and gasifies municipal waste and purifies the gases into the mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen known as syngas. It then catalytically converts syngas into ethanol and methanol. The company claims a cost advantage over competing second-generation ethanol production techniques that use enzymes to break down cellulose into sugars for fermentation into ethanol.

Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel says the plant, set to open in late 2010, will help reduce greenhouse gases and make the city the first in North America to divert 90% of its residential waste from landfills.

John J. Murphy, president of Catalyst Group Resources, a consulting firm that monitors catalytic biofuel processes, says AERI's backing is a sign that Enerkem's process is technologically sound. He notes, however, that government monetary backing is a sign that the plant may not be financially sound.

"Support from an ExxonMobil or a ConocoPhillips would give it more economic credibility," he says. "Return on investment is not measured the same when taxpayers are paying as it is when shareholders are paying."

 
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