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Video: World's first industrial-scale waste-to-biofuels facility


June 20, 2014

Gizmag pays a visit to the city of Edmonton's new Waste-to-Biofuels and Chemicals Facility

Gizmag pays a visit to the city of Edmonton's new Waste-to-Biofuels and Chemicals Facility

Image Gallery (12 images)

Thanks to its extensive composting and recycling facilities, the city of Edmonton, Canada is already diverting approximately 60 percent of its municipal waste from the landfill. That figure is expected to rise to 90 percent, however, once the city's new Waste-to-Biofuels and Chemicals Facility starts converting garbage (that can't be composted or recycled) into methanol and ethanol. It's the world's first such plant to operate on an industrial scale, and we recently got a guided tour of the place.

The process begins with garbage trucks dumping their loads on the tipping floor at the Integrated Processing and Transfer Facility. The trash is manually and mechanically sorted, with things like appliances being set aside for electronic parts recycling and e-waste disposal, while organic matter heads off to the Composting Facility.

Recyclable materials are already pre-separated by citizens as part of the city's blue bag program. They avoid the garbage stream entirely, going straight to the Materials Recovery Facility for recycling.

Soon, though, high-carbon materials such as wood, fabric and discarded plastic will be getting shredded into Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF), also known as "garbage fluff." It will be transferred to the Waste-to-Biofuels and Chemicals Facility, which is owned and operated by Enerkem Alberta Biofuels.

There, it will be heated in a low-oxygen atmosphere. This will cause its chemical bonds to break (without the material actually burning), releasing their carbon and hydrogen content to form what's known as syngas. This will in turn be cleaned up and converted into chemical products and biofuels – such as methanol and ethanol.

The Waste-to-Biofuels and Chemicals Facility is scheduled to go online in the next several weeks. It is ultimately expected to convert 100,000 tonnes (110,231 tons) of municipal solid waste into 38 million liters (10 million gallons) of biofuels and chemicals annually.

You can see our video tour of the facility below, conducted by the Edmonton Waste Management Centre's Education Programs Co-ordinator, Garry Spotowski. There are also photos of the process in the gallery.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

And how much energy does that process take compared to the energy content of the biofuels?


If you are going to go the syngas route make ultra low sulfur clean diesel fuel. Alcohol is a disaster for the fuel system, can't be delivered by pipeline, and has low energy density; methanol is particularly bad is this regard and terribly toxic and just to round out its nastiness mixes with water rather than floating on top making it virtually impossible to clean up if spilled into water.

@ Skipjack That is a good question. Unlike corn ethanol more fuel will come out than went in, and it won't be increasing food costs.


Not sure I am that impressed by the numbers, but it is moving in the right direction. Waste is a resource.

Here in Denmark 61% of our waste is recycled, 29% is burned generating energy and/or heat, 7% becomes landfill and the rest is then treated in other ways (normally because it's harmful chemical and stuff). Those are 2011 numbers and we do slightly better now and some of our neighbors do even better.


the idea of converting trash to gas and ethanol itself is old, and several projects failed when tried in an industrial scale. If it works, it's a true gold mine, but up to now the mechanism did'nt work as expected due to the soot. Rewrite the article in 10 years if the facitiy is still running.



Submerged plasma arc is the way to go. www.Magnegas.com can be installed and replace sewage lagoons.

Ben, because you are close to the 3 coal fired generators near Edmonton, which spew mercury into the environment perhaps you could look into "HydroNanoGas" which could be added into the combustion process and eliminate all exhaust contaminants? http://www.hydroinfra.com/en/solutions/what-is-hng/

Just write a bit about www.HHOgames.com and all the suppliers of hydroxyl or Brown's Gas equipment for autos, especially diesels.

Darren Walker
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