Technology

Energy emerging from waste

 By Michelle Leslie

Lockheed Martin made news recently with the announcement of a new plant in the United Kingdom that will take waste and turn it into energy. The plant, which is expected to begin operation within four years, will use landfill waste to power an estimated 15,000 homes and business in the area, easing up landfill requirements and finding a solution for garbage. The idea of turning waste into energy is nothing new. With a new view on solid waste, India commissioned the construction of six waste to energy plants in their country last year and in Canada, the city of Edmonton has big plans to divert almost all landfill waste in return for cleaner, greener energy…

(Cover photo: Schmidt Hammer Lassen and Gottlieb Paludan to Design World’s Largest Waste to Energy Plant in Shenzhen, China | ArchDaily)

Lockheed Martin made news recently with the announcement of a new plant in the United Kingdom that will take waste and turn it into energy. The plant, which is expected to begin operation within four years, will use landfill waste to power an estimated 15,000 homes and business in the area, easing up landfill requirements and finding a permanent solution for waste.

“With more than seven billion people on the planet, sustainable waste disposal and a need for energy that is both secure and clean are vital to quality of life,” said Michael Friedman, Lockheed Martin Spokesperson. “Our advanced waste conversion solutions help address waste disposal, energy security and climate control issues, as well as the desire for green base load energy and renewable fuels.”

The idea of turning waste into energy is a hot topic. With a new view on solid waste, India commissioned the construction of six waste-to-energy plants in their country last year and in Canada, the City of Edmonton is the site of a world first waste-to-energy project.

Waste amounts and management methods in OECD countries

Next to China, India’s population of 1.3 billion, is the largest on earth. Of India’s total inhabitants, an estimated 300 million live in cities, that’s ten times the number of the entire population of the United States. Recent data from the United Nations (UN) indicates that the population of India will continue to grow over the coming years, reaching close to 2 billion people by 2050.

More people means less land and higher population densities. Additionally, increased urbanization has meant the removal of valued agriculture lands, vital to feeding a growing country. The rate of population growth and urbanization has also created a bigger waste footprint. In fact, the World Bank indicated that the rate of global waste produced is forecast to triple, exceeding the rate of urbanization.

In India, a Status Report on Waste Management by the Central Pollution Control Board found that of the 127,486 tons per day (TPD) of waste produced by 34 states only 15,881 is treated. Underlining the importance of viable waste treatment solutions as reported in a German publication on The Climate Change Mitigation Potential of the Waste Sector pointed out that viable waste solutions represent major progress in terms of health and hygiene.

Concerned over landfill waste and running out of space, the City of Edmonton started looking for innovative solutions to waste. The end result has been a decade-long partnership, a research facility and a new view on fuel. A greener alternative to waste management, the Enerkem Alberta Biofuels Facility has managed to divert almost all landfill waste, approximately 90 percent, and produce energy in its place. Using non-recyclable garbage, in a matter of minutes, waste that is destined for landfill or incineration is transformed into energy, creating a more circular, green economy.

“Enerkem’s bio-refineries reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by using waste instead of fossil sources to produce fuels and chemicals. They contribute to displacing gasoline and avoiding methane creation coming from waste landfilling,” stated Marie-Helene Labrie, Senior Vice President, Government Affairs and Communications, Enerkem. “They also reduce petroleum imports and provide a local energy solution.”

Like the Enerkem facility, Lockheed Martin’s CoGen facility will transform waste into electricity through a process known as advanced gasification. Any waste that cannot be composted or recycled but can be burned, such as wood-waste, municipal solid waste and even industrial waste is collected and sent into a gasifier. Under certain temperatures the waste turns into synthesis gas (syngas) which can then be used to fuel a combustion engine that produces electricity.

In the case of the Enerkem Alberta Biofuels Facility, the gas is converted into methanol and ethanol by interacting with catalysts. Unlike incineration, the process is oxygen and flame-free resulting in the reduction of emissions and landfill waste.

“Gasification is an eco-friendly alternative, as heat carrier balls are reusable,” reported Friedman. “In addition, gasification occurs in an oxygen-free environment, which results in five to ten times less emissions of carbon dioxide than landfilling.”

SEE MORE: Energy from supermarket waste by Benjamin Plackett

The Royal Horticultural Society's 2015 Harvest Festival Show

The benefits of these waste-to-energy projects are multifaceted as Enerkem has proven, being the first facility to produce value added chemicals like methanol which are helping to fuel the transportation sector. In fact, in late August, Enerkem announced that their Alberta Biofuels plant was the first waste-to-methanol facility in the world to receive the International Sustainability and Carbon Certification (ISCC). The company was also recognized for its work by the Cleantech Group, naming them a Global Cleantech 100 company in 2013.

“It’s the first of a kind. This is the first large scale commercial facility which converts municipal solid waste into value added chemicals, methanol and ethanol. It’s really breakthrough technology,” states Dr. Surindar Singh, Executive Director, Renewables and Emerging Technologies, Alberta Innovates.

Enerkem has big plans for the future of waste with eyes on developing similar facilities in North America and abroad. For Lockheed Martin construction of the Lockheed Martin CoGen facility will begin in 2018 with operations starting in 2020.

about the author
Michelle Leslie
Alberta, Toronto and now Ottawa. Meteorologist, Journalist & Munk School Of Global Affairs Fellow.