There’s something about this company I just really like. Montreal-based Enerkem Inc. announced today that it will build, own and operate a waste-to-ethanol plant in Pontotoc, Mississippi, marking its first deal in the United States. The facility, called Enerkem Mississippi Biofuels, will involve an investment of $250 million. That will cover the cost of building the company’s cellulosic ethanol plant, which uses proprietary gasification, catalysis and gas conditioning processes. It will also cover the cost of an upstream solid waste recycling and pre-treatment facility.
The plan is for Enerkem to accept about 189,000 tons of unsorted waste per year from the nearby Three Rivers Solid Waste Management Authority of Mississippi. The two organizations are in the process of negotiating final financial and binding agreements. Enerkem figures that about 60 per cent of the incoming waste can be gasified at its ethanol plant to produce about 20 million gallons (about 75 million litres) of cellulosic biofuel annually. That would include crop and forest residues, urban “organic” waste, construction and demolition debris, including treated wood. The non-biomass portions that can’t be converted will be sorted and sent off for recycling.
This is a perfect example of green job creation. The company expects the project will create 300 jobs during the construction and start-up phases and 150 long-term jobs (direct and indirect) after that. Vincent Chornet, president and CEO of Enerkem, pointed out that the process is unique because, unlike other energy-from-waste facilities based on gasification, this one will use a mix of municipal solid waste and wood waste as feedstock that represent a negative cost — i.e. Enerkem will get a tipping fee rather than have to pay for feedstock, like first-generation ethanol plants and even those based just on wood waste. This approach, said Chornet, will lead to “substantial commercial scale and favorable economics.”
Those who have been following this company on Clean Break will remember the deal it signed last June to build a similar ethanol-from-waste facility in Edmonton, Alberta, as part of a joint venture with ethanol producer Greenfield Ethanol. Construction will start soon on the plant, which is supposed to be in operation by the end of 2010 and will be about half the size of the Mississippi plant. It also won’t require a separate sorting and recycling facility but instead will leverage Edmonton’s existing — and I should say, world class — solid waste recycling infrastructure.
Earlier this year, Enerkem also entered the start-up phase for a small plant in Quebec that converts old power utility poles into ethanol. Again, a good example of producing a valuable fuel (or green chemicals) using a feedstock that not only doesn’t cost anything, but through a tipping fee also represents a second revenue stream.
Ethanol might have its public-relations challenges but don’t write it off yet, not when we’re getting to a point where we can take organics/biomass from landfills, turn it into a useable fuel, and avoid landfill methane emissions in the process. Enerkem’s process also turns biomass and organic solid waste into the chemical building blocks for a slew of other products, including plastics, paints and solvents. And unlike electricity-producing incinerators, the ethanol-from-waste approach using gasification is an easier sell to jurisdictions that are wary of the whole “burning” and “smokestack” images associated with mass-burn incineration facilities.
I only wish one of these Enerkem plants were being considered for southern Ontario.