Enerkem contributes technology to Edmonton research center

By Kris Bevill | June 24, 2011

The city of Edmonton, Alberta, recently opened an Advanced Energy Research Facility focused on converting various waste products to biochemicals. The facility is located adjacent to trash-to-ethanol producer Enerkem Inc.’s 10 MMgy Enerkem Alberta Biofuels plant, which is currently under construction and scheduled for commissioning by the end of the year. Enerkem is providing the core technology for the research center in exchange for the opportunity to run tests and expand its technological capabilities to produce high-value biochemicals. The research center is being funded by the government of Alberta through its Alberta Innovates - Energy and Environment Solutions program. The city of Edmonton and Alberta Innovates have also contributed $20 million to Enerkem’s Alberta Biofuels project.

“By producing fuels and chemicals from waste, Enerkem’s green chemistry contributes to making our everyday products more sustainable and to transition into a bio-economy,” Vincent Chornet, president and CEO of Enerkem, said. “We are proud to take part in this state-of-the-art Advanced Energy Research Facility with our long-standing partners, the city of Edmonton and Alberta Innovates, as it is an important component to furthering our company’s dedication to innovation and the development of additional biochemicals.”

An Enerkem spokesperson said additional products explored by the company at the research facility include polymers and higher alcohols, but declined to further specify. “Enerkem’s technology and expertise will be used at the facility, where we will run tests, though the opportunity is open to other world-class researchers and scientists to do the same using the equipment and facility resources,” the spokesperson stated. Enerkem is currently capable of producing ethanol, methanol, acetic acid and other acetates through its synthesis gas and chemical intermediates technology platform, according to the its website.

Enerkem operates a 1.3 MMgy demonstration-scale facility in Westbury, Quebec, where it is currently producing methanol. Construction of the “ethanol production island” will begin within the next few months and the facility should begin producing ethanol next year, according to the company. Its 10 MMgy Edmonton plant will also produce methanol and ethanol when complete, using at least 100,000 dry metric tons of Edmonton’s sorted municipal solid waste per year.

Additionally, the company is developing a 10 MMgy ethanol production facility in northeast Mississippi near Pontotoc. A groundbreaking for the plant is expected later this year; commissioning is scheduled for 2013. In 2009, the U.S. DOE awarded a $50 million grant for the facility’s construction and operation and in January, the USDA awarded a conditional commitment for an $80 million loan guarantee for the project. Earlier this month, Enerkem announced its latest round of fundraising had produced $60 million from investors including newcomer Valero Energy Corp., as well as Houston-based Waste Management Inc. and several investment firms. When complete, the Mississippi plant will utilize 190,000 tons of unsorted MSW from Three Rivers Solid Waste Management of Mississippi, diverting approximately 60 percent of MSW from the Three Rivers’ landfill.