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By Charley Sprenger, M.Sc. Biological Engineering Student, University of Saskatchewan

My trip to the site of a world-class sustainability partnership

With the concern of unsustainability in the fossil fuels industry – economically, socially, and environmentally –  researchers and industry are avidly trying to find new ways to provide fuel for our power-dependant society. On another front, we produce a massive amount of waste through our everyday activities that is traditionally sent to landfill; now cities are faced with a need to try and create a more sustainable way to divert this waste as landfill operations are reaching their limits.

Collaboration between the City of Edmonton and Enerkem, an innovative leader in the biofuels industry, has developed to create a unique project that bridges two of our world’s largest sustainability concerns. Through this partnership, the City of Edmonton is able to divert 30% of its waste to the Enerkem facility, which is then able to convert this waste feedstock to ethanol, a biofuel that is currently being integrated into gasoline products.

As a M.Sc. student in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering at the University of Saskatchewan, I have had the opportunity of becoming connected to this collaboration as a Highly Qualified Professional (HQP) through BioFuelNet. My thesis research is focused on a review of municipal solid waste (MSW) classification in Canada and around the world. Another part of my work is looking at processing of the MSW into pellets as an improved feedstock for thermochemical conversion to biofuels, technology which is used by Enerkem. Recently, I was provided the opportunity, through a BioFuelNet travel award to experience, first-hand, the Waste Management Centre in Edmonton and connect with industry members about the facilities and processes that are utilized to achieve the flow of waste from collection to value-added products.

The Edmonton Waste Management Centre (EWMC) is unique in the fact that all of the sustainable waste diversion facilities are interconnected on one site, reducing transportation demands. The following infographic gives a good overview of how waste is collected, processed, and utilized in the city. Of the stream that comes in by truck from residential collection, 20% is collected in blue bags and recycled at the Materials Recovery Facility. Through the black bag household garbage collection, 40% is separated and sent to the compost facility and another 30% of the waste is diverted to the Enerkem Waste-to-Biofuels plant; this leaves only 10% of the entire residential waste being produce sent to landfill.


Flow of Waste in the City of Edmonton (2014)

My main stop during my visit was to tour the Integrated Processing and Transfer Facility (IPTF) on site as it is central area where the residential waste is collected and where commercial wastes are gathered for transport to landfill. During my tour, they were in the process of cleaning one line of the equipment, so I was able to look inside the machines to see how they separate out the small organic materials from the waste and send it next door to the composting facility. The larger materials are further processed into refuse-derived fuel (RDF)-fluff; the feedstock for the waste-to-biofuels plant. This is the material that I plan on pelletizing for my research, so it was valuable to see how it was produced. I discovered that the City sometimes has difficulties providing RDF that is dry enough for Enerkem’s specifications; this was a constraint that I would need to take back and include in my research.

RDF-Fluff from Edmonton Waste Management Centre

RDF-Fluff from Edmonton Waste Management Centre

Another stop during my visit was a guided tour around the Enerkem waste-to-biofuels site. The plant is currently undergoing construction for upgrades to the present process and to add the second phase of the project. I learned a lot about the way that they are able to convert nearly any carbon-rich biomass (example: RDF, waste plastics from the Materials Recovery Facility, wood chips from construction waste) to fuel. Ideally, the process would utilize pelleted RDF as it has more uniform properties; however the Enerkem process can use the fluff material, which removed a large cost that would have been required to implement a pelleting machine. The purpose of my research is to study the benefits of pelleted RDF to determine whether pelleting would be a worthwhile step for future waste-to-biofuels partnerships.

Enerkem Waste-Biofuels Facility

Also during my time at the EWMC, I was able to tour some of the other facilities:

  • Materials Recovery Facility – blue bag recycling is processed and remarketed here
  • Research and Development Facility – in-house testing and research by students from the University of Alberta is conducted here
  • Advanced Energy Research Facility – the pilot Enerkem plant was constructed here and it is still used to evaluate different feedstock and process conditions

All in all, it was fascinating to see first-hand the integrated approach that the City of Edmonton has taken to maximize residential waste diversion and contribute to the growing energy demand for biofuels through their partnership with Enerkem. BioFuelNet has provided me with the excellent opportunity to collaborate; I look forward to taking what I have seen and heard and applying it to my research project.


City of Edmonton. 2014. Edmonton Waste Management Centre Brochure.

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