Natural gas is inexpensive, seemingly plentiful and much cleaner-burning when used as an alternative to diesel fuel in transportation fleets, so it makes sense that Waste Management is converting its entire North American fleet to run on compressed natural gas. The company announced this week it has added 25 new CNG waste collection trucks to its fleet in Ottawa. About 80 per cent of all new trucks purchased by the company now run on compressed natural gas. To accommodate this fleet conversion, Waste Management has been increasing the number of fuelling stations it has to support the fleet. Currently it operates 17 of these stations across North America, but that number is expected to expand to 50 by the end of this year. Overall, the company has more than 1,400 CNG trucks in its fleet, including 100 added to its fleet in Vancouver last year. While this represents only 3.5 per cent of the entire fleet, conversion is happening at a healthy clip. It should be noted that Waste Management is also using route optimization software to reduce driving time and all trucks are programmed to turn off automatically after five minutes of idling. These are all solid initiatives that will help reduce emissions, but also reduce company costs.
From a greenhouse-gas perspective, the emission reductions aren’t massive — up to 25 per cent reduction — but the real gains here are in the reduction of smog-causing pollutants. Nitrogen oxides and diesel particulate matter are reduced by 90 per cent. Over time, it leaves open the possibility of using renewable natural gas, sourced from landfill gas and municipal wastewater biogas, to displace its fossil fuel cousin. The city of Surrey, B.C., is already heading in this direction. It now requires that natural gas-powered trucks be used for its municipal waste collection, a service being performed by BFI Canada, which has purchased 75 trucks that run on CNG. At the same time, it is launching an organics collection program for Surrey’s 470,000 residents and businesses that will see the household waste converted into biogas that will be cleaned, conditioned and used in BFI trucks. Surrey hopes the new biogas facility will begin operation in 2014.
Toronto was supposed to head in this direction as well, but from what I understand the plan has unraveled under the administration of Mayor Rob Ford.
Enerkem, the Montreal-based waste-to-ethanol company, continues to raise money and extend its reach through new partnerships. The company announced today it has secured another $60 million in financing and that Valero Energy has joined existing investors Waste Management, Rho Ventures, Braemar Energy Ventures and Cycle Capital in the round. Valero and Enerkem have also agreed to jointly explore future commercial opportunities.
Enerkem is proving to be a Canadian waste-to-energy success story. It has several projects under construction and in the pipeline and it has managed to attract top-tier strategic investors and VCs. Valero is a good catch. It has 10 ethanol refineries across the United States, making it the largest supplier of ethanol in the country. It also has made several investments in next-gen ethanol technology companies, including Mascoma, Zeachem, Terrabon, Solix Biofuels — and now Enerkem. “With Valero joining Waste Management as a strategic investor, Enerkem becomes one of the very few renewable products companies that is aligned with industry leaders from both upstream and downstream parts of the business,” said Vincent Chornet, president and chief executive officer of Enerkem, in a press release.
Kudos to Vincent Chornet. The president, CEO and co-founder of Montreal-based Enerkem (along with his father, Esteban) has in just a few years turned his company into a leading player in the emerging waste-to-fuel market. Today, Enerkem gained even more momentum, announcing it had secured $53.8 million in venture financing in a round that included Houston-based Waste Management, the continent’s top waste-management firm.
Enerkem uses a thermochemical fluidized-bed process to gasify municipal solid waste (organics, wood waste, plastics), demolition wood, and agricultural/forest residues. The resulting syngas is cleaned and, using a proven catalyst, can be turned into a variety of end products, including methanol, ethanol and high-value olefins (plastics). The company is in the process of building a waste-to-ethanol facility in Mississippi (75 million litres a year) and an Edmonton plant (36 million litres a year) that will also turn sorted municipal solid waste into ethanol. The Edmonton facility is being done in partnership with Greenfield Ethanol, Canada’s largest independent ethanol producer. Meanwhile, in Westbury, Quebec, the company has a commercial-scale demonstration facility that currently turns old wooden hydro poles into ethanol.
Rho Ventures, Braemar Energy Ventures and BDR Capital, all existing investors, participated in the financing round with Waste Management, along with new investor Cycle Capital. “This financing round validates Enerkem’s business and advances our path towards leadership in the waste and advanced fuels markets,” said Chornet in a release. In an earlier story (July 2008) I wrote for Greentech Media, Chornet said that burning waste or burning the syngas created from waste is, well, a waste. Based on electricity and ethanol prices at the time, a company can make three times more revenue per tonne of processed waste compared to a plant that simply burns its syngas to generate electricity, he said. Chornet also said Enerkem’s process is profitable with oil at $50 a barrel and if the company can get a competitive tipping fee to take the garage.