Canadian company Enerkem broke ground on a facility Tuesday that plans to convert 100,000 tons of household trash a year into ethanol.
The $75 million plant in Edmonton, Alberta, is expected to be completed in late 2011. By 2013, the city will be able to divert 90 percent of its residential waste, Mayor Stephen Mandel said in a statement.
Enerkem hosted a groundbreaking for the waste-to-ethanol plant, which it said will be the first industrial-scale project of this kind. The facility will sort recycled and compostable material and convert the remaining into about 10 million gallons of ethanol a year. It has a 25-year agreement with Edmonton for the supply of municipal solid waste.
After sorting trash, Enerkem's process treats the rest of the material with pressure and heat in a gasifier. That yields synthesis gas made up of mostly carbon monoxide and hydrogen. The gas can then converted into ethanol or other chemicals using a catalyst.
Gasifying waste to make ethanol results in a reduction of carbon emissions since the synthesis gas and the trash are not burned, said a company representative.
Based on its own life cycle analysis, Enerkem estimates that its process results in an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gases when compared to the combined emissions from gasoline and waste landfilling, the representative said.
There are a number of companies working on turning municipal waste into ethanol or into a synthesis gas which can be burned to generate electricity, although Enerkem appears to among the most advanced commercially. In addition to its Alberta facility, Enerkem is developing a number of other waste-to-biofuels facilities in Canada and the U.S..