Company that transforms garbage into ethanol attracts big investors

Jun 03, 2011 by Lisa Zyga weblog
enerkem
Enerkem converts garbage into ethanol in a process that combines waste gasification and catalytic synthesis. Image credit: Enerkem.

(PhysOrg.com) -- For the past several years, Montreal-based company Enerkem has been working on a way to make ethanol from old utility poles and household garbage. Earlier this week, the company announced that they have received $60 million in new financing from the major independent oil refiner Valero and the trash-hauling company Waste Management. Total investment in Enerkem is now $130 million.

Enerkem is one of several companies working on transforming into , a process that has often proven to be difficult and expensive. Ethanol made from garbage is a type of cellulosic , meaning it comes from , a non-food plant material. So compared to making ethanol from the starch in corn and grains, making cellulosic biofuels offers some advantages - most notably, it allows for a greater production of ethanol without using .

Founded in 2000, Enerkem is currently operating a pilot plant and commercial-scale plant in Quebec. The company is also building commercial plants in Edmonton, Canada, with funding from the government of Alberta, and in Pontotoc, Mississippi, with a $50 million DOE grant. Each of those two plants would consume about 100,000 tons of garbage per year.

Enerkem’s technology works by shredding municipal solid waste and then heating it to 400° C (750° F). The waste gives off a gas that includes hydrogen and carbon monoxide, which are trapped while carbon dioxide and other impurities are filtered out. The pure gas is then run over a catalyst, which converts it into methanol. The methanol can then be converted into ethanol or other chemical feedstocks.

One of the biggest advantages of the technology is that it has significantly lower carbon dioxide emissions compared to making ethanol from corn. As Enerkem explains, its process requires burning natural gas or propane to start, but excess heat produced by the gasification process can be used to continue running the system by boiling water to generate electricity. Further, the process keeps trash out of landfills, where it can give off methane. Using garbage is also beneficial from an economic perspective: since Enerkem gets paid to dispose of the waste materials, its feedstock is “cost-negative.”

Although it’s still in an early phase, hopefully Enerkem can use these advantages to produce ethanol in a cost-effective way.

Explore further: Solar energy prices see double-digit declines in 2013, trend expected to continue

More information: Enerkem
via: PopSci and NYT Green

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PJS
2 / 5 (1) Jun 03, 2011
so you burn natural gas to melt trash to generate methanol to avoid making methane, but then you then burn the methanol as fuel which puts CO2 into the atmosphere. this is dumb. we should be focusing on non-greenhouse-emitting energy sources, and recycling trash into usable solids, not gasses...
LoboSolo
not rated yet Jun 03, 2011
Why not just stop at methanol and use it? Is the extra cost to turn the methanol into ethanol worth the trouble? I know there are more BTUs per gallon for ethanol but how much does that drive up the cost to squeeze out those extra BTUs?
Etreum
2 / 5 (2) Jun 03, 2011
More cost effective than thermal depolymerization? I don't think so. Comments?
krundoloss
not rated yet Jun 03, 2011
Efficient or not, for the love of god can we get the ball rolling atleast. I for one am sick and tired of big corporations forcing the status quo. Can we please stop making mountains of garbage and wasting the energy we can gain from it!
alec123456789
4 / 5 (1) Jun 03, 2011
so you burn natural gas to melt trash to generate methanol to avoid making methane, but then you then burn the methanol as fuel which puts CO2 into the atmosphere. this is dumb. we should be focusing on non-greenhouse-emitting energy sources, and recycling trash into usable solids, not gasses...


Methane is a stronger greenhouse gas than CO2. Burning it is an improvement.
And this is for the stuff that can't be recycled.
And H, CO, CO2, CH4, and CH3OH (methanol) are raw ingredients for more than just fuel. (Plastics, etc.)
Eikka
4 / 5 (1) Jun 04, 2011
Oh, so this is basically syngas made by pyrolysis, and then catalyzed to liquid fuels.

The pyrolyzing process easily runs on its own feedstock - i.e. it produces more syngas than is required to run the system, at about a total 72-80% efficiency.

Or if you use external energy, your EROEI discounting the input feedstock as free (because it's waste) is about 3:1 to 5:1 for the syngas, which is superior to corn ethanol's 1.37:1

The only question is, how much energy does it take to convert syngas to liquid fuels, presumably in some type of F-T process? That affects the total energy balance.

People used to run cars on miniaturized versions of the gas generator after WW2 when oil and gasoline weren't available.

However. The synthesis, catalysis, transportation and use in machinery will waste more of the energy contents than simply burning the stuff to generate electricity in a powerplant.
Cave_Man
2 / 5 (2) Jun 04, 2011
God why are people even considering ethanol still, PEOPLE LISTEN: the byproduct of burning ethanol is POISON!

We are currently trading an aerial plant fertilizer (CO2) for one of the worth compounds for human health and the ecosystem (acetaldehyde) WAKE UP PEOPLE THE MAKERS AND PROFITEERS OF ETHANOL ARE VIGOROUSLY SUPPRESSING THIS INFORMATION SO LETS SPREAD IT LIKE WILDFIRE.
Cave_Man
5 / 5 (1) Jun 04, 2011
Meant to say WORST compounds for human health up there. Hopefully that is obvious enough to even the most dense of my critics.
Cave_Man
5 / 5 (1) Jun 04, 2011
Every study I've found is using data from the 1980's which should be considered archaic by todays standards and even back then they knew it was bad.

Heres and excerpt from a govt website.
"There is compelling evidence of acetaldehyde genotoxicity because of binding to DNA and mutagenicity and there is experimental evidence for acetaldehyde acting as an initiator of tumorigenesis."

Source: oehha.ca.gov/air/toxic_contaminants/html/Acetaldehyde.htm
Au-Pu
5 / 5 (1) Jun 05, 2011
Then Brazil should have genetic and cancerous problems that are vastly more numerous and common than anywhere else in the world.
Brazil runs cars on pure ethanol and this eliminates the smog problems faced by many US cities.
So let us look at mutagenic diseases and cancer in Brazil.
This will provide an excellent real life test free of financially motivated missinformation.
LoboSolo
not rated yet Jun 05, 2011
@Etreum ... CWT has one plant up and running. It should publish the numbers so that we an examine them. If they're making a profit then they should be able to slowly expand yet they haven't. Its IPO failed due to it taking a loss. Maybe with the price of oil up so high, it can turn around and make a profit.

It appears that TDP holds great potential. I'm not dismissing it. But it is a similar process to what is being discuss here.
Justsayin
5 / 5 (1) Jun 05, 2011
WTF "a $50 million DOE grant" to a Canadian company? Does not the Canadian government have money to give Enerkem!
Etreum
not rated yet Jun 05, 2011
Thanks LoboSolo.
rwinners
not rated yet Jun 06, 2011
pjs: How do you recycle a banana peel?
Cave_Man
1 / 5 (1) Jun 06, 2011
Then Brazil should have genetic and cancerous problems that are vastly more numerous and common than anywhere else in the world.
Brazil runs cars on pure ethanol and this eliminates the smog problems faced by many US cities.
So let us look at mutagenic diseases and cancer in Brazil.
This will provide an excellent real life test free of financially motivated missinformation.

Yeah, because car exhaust stays right where you put it and never moves just like other gases, and thats why global warming is confined to New York City, Beijing and Los Angeles right?

Take about .5 sec to think about whether cancer and disease has increased or decreased globally in the last 50 years. I'm not saying its 100% ethanols fault by why add something with proven harmful effects to the mix and claim its a green alternative?

Also, Brazil is your example of the way you want things? We can't even study the effects of ethanol on the ecosystem because they are destroying it so fast in other ways.