Enerkem is a Montreal-based cleantech company. Founded in 2000, the Enerkem technology converts pretreated municipal solid waste into transportation fuels and chemicals.
Enerkem own two plants in Quebec: a demonstration plant in Westbury and a pilot plant in Sherbrooke. The company’s first full-scale commercial plant has been under construction in Edmonton, Alberta since 2010. The company has one similar facility under development in Varennes, Quebec.
Enerkem is majority-owned by institutional, clean-technology and industrial investors, including Rho Ventures, Waste Management, Braemar Energy Ventures, Investissement Quebec, Valero, Cycle Capital, The Westly Group, Fonds de solidarite FTQ and Fondaction CSN.
Dr. Esteban Chornet (Ph.D. from Lehigh University; Professor Emeritus from Sherbrooke University) conceived the idea for a waste-conversion technology after being inspired by his father, who used wood waste from his sawmill to make electricity in the late 1930s in Mallorca, Spain. In 2000, Dr. Chornet co-founded Enerkem with his son Vincent Chornet. Under Vincent Chornet's expert guidance, Enerkem has established itself as an entrepreneurial leader in the field of advanced biofuels and green chemicals and grown to 160 employees (as of October 2013).
In 2003, a pilot facility began operations using Enerkem’s technology in Sherbrooke, Quebec.
In 2007, Enerkem announced the construction of Canada’s demonstration cellulosic ethanol plant to use waste materials. This plant is located in Westbury, Quebec.
In 2008, Enerkem announced an agreement with the City of Edmonton, in Alberta, to build the world’s first commercial municipal waste-to-ethanol facility. As of spring 2016 Enerkem did not expect full operation of this plant before 2018 at the earliest.
In 2008, Enerkem announced its plan to launch a next-generation biofuels project in Pontotoc, Mississippi. Later that year the Department of Energy awarded Enerkem up to $50 million in funding for this Mississippi facility. Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi welcomed the project stating that “projects like Enerkem fit the definition of what America needs to solve [the U.S.]’s energy problem with more abundant, affordable American energy.” As of June 2016 no work has been started on the Mississippi project.
In early 2011, the U.S. Department of Agriculture offered Enerkem a conditional commitment for an $80 million loan guarantee for its Mississippi project. As of June 2016 no work has been started on the Mississippi project, and any mention of the project has been removed from the company website (www.enerkem.com).
In February 2012, the Government of Quebec announced its plan to inject $27 million in a joint venture partnership formed by Enerkem and GreenField Ethanol for the construction of Quebec’s first full-scale commercial cellulosic ethanol plant in Varennes, Quebec.
2011: President Barack Obama referenced Enerkem’s Mississippi project in a speech at Georgetown University. He said, “Over the next two years, we'll help entrepreneurs break ground on four next-generation biorefineries ... And going forward, we should look for ways to reform biofuels incentives to make sure they meet today's challenges and save taxpayers money.”, unfortunately President Obama was incorrect, as the project in Pontotoc never began construction, only getting as far as Enerkem making empty promises.
2011: Valero Energy Corporation joined existing strategic investor Waste Management.
2012: Joint venture partnership formed by Enerkem and GreenField Ethanol announced plans to build and operate Quebec's first full-scale waste-to-biofuels production facility.
2012: IPO withdrawn due to unfavorable market conditions (22 employees laid-off, out of 154)
2013: Enerkem raises C$50 million in latest financing round and Investissement Québec, as a mandatary for the Government of Québec, joins as strategic investor. http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/Cleantech-VC-Roundup-Solexel-Enerkem-Blu-Homes-Goal-Zero-Amalyst-Vita
2013: Enerkem earned the top ranking by Lux Research for near-term growth opportunity among 415 companies, and was named a 2013 Global Cleantech 100 company by the Cleantech Group. The company then had 160 employees in Canada and the U.S.
The Enerkem technology converts pretreated municipal solid waste into biofuels. The technology and process diverts waste from landfills and creates a local transportation fuel.
Enerkem’s clean technology platform is a 4-step thermochemical process that consists of:
- Feedstock pretreatment: The municipal solid waste being used as feedstock is sorted to remove recyclable materials, such as glass, metals, paper, and certain plastics, as well as inert materials, such as ceramic, stones, concrete and sand.
- Gasification: The gasification reactor breaks down the feedstock into its constituent parts or molecules. Enerkem uses a bubbling fluidized bed gasification reactor that evenly distributes air or gas upward through a bed of solid particles, such as sand, and utilizes air or gas velocity to create turbulence. In the same reactor, these broken-down molecules are then blended with steam to produce syngas. This process takes approximately 10 seconds. The resulting syngas is H2 and CO rich, which are essential molecules for use in Enerkem's process. Enerkem’s process operates at temperatures under 1,400 °F and pressurized to below 5 atmospheres (atm).
- Cleaning and conditioning of syngas: The syngas is fed into a syngas cleaning and conditioning system. This process upgrades the syngas to a chemical-grade syngas that can be synthesized into liquid fuels and chemicals. Some of the steps that make up the cleaning and conditioning process include the use of cyclones to remove fine particles present in the syngas, and scrubbing and absorption equipment to remove impurities. Enerkem is able to control the purity and composition of the syngas (i.e. the desired balance between H2 and CO) within this step.
- Catalytic synthesis: The last step is the conversion of the pure chemical grade syngas (CO and H2) into renewable biofuels and chemicals. A portion of the syngas reacts with a commercially available catalyst to produce methanol, which can either be sold as an end-product or used as a chemical intermediate to form other products. To produce ethanol, methanol reacts with carbon monoxide from the syngas with a commercially available catalyst to produce methyl acetate. The final conversion step in the ethanol production process entails splitting the methyl acetate by inserting a hydrogen molecule that is extracted from the produced syngas. The resulting ethanol is then distilled in a final refining step to improve product quality. Subsequently, process controls and quality analyses ensure that the products, including ethanol, encompass all the required characteristics.
Enerkem’s primary focus is the commercial production of cellulosic ethanol. Second generation (advanced) biofuel production, particularly cellulosic biofuel and biomass-based diesel, can address some of the challenges associated with first generation biofuels and are expected to yield greater energy and GHG emissions reduction benefits. The traditional biological process of creating second generation biofuels, unlike thermochemical processes, typically requires specific, consistent and homogeneous feedstock, purpose-bred enzymes and bacteria working in concert and significant water treatment requirements.
Cellulosic biofuels are chemically identical to corn or sugar-derived ethanol, but they are produced from a variety of non-food biomass. They are expected to reduce GHG emissions by at least 60 percent, compared to a 2005 baseline for the gasoline or diesel fuel it supplants.Sherbrooke, Canada: Built in 2003, Enerkem’s Sherbrooke facility is the company’s pilot plant. The plant has produced syngas, methanol and cellulosic ethanol. More than 25 feedstock materials have been tested there.
Westbury, Canada: In operation since 2009, Enerkems own Westbury facility is used for demonstration. The facility has a throughput capacity of 48 metric tons per day, a 10x scale-up in throughput capacity compared to the pilot plant.
Edmonton, Canada: This commercial facility located in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada was inaugurated in June 2014. Commissioning of front-end systems commenced December 2013, and Enerkem then expected initial methanol production during 2014. As of 2015 according to Enerkem commercial operation were yet to begin, and ethanol production delayed with expected initial production late 2016. Ethanol production was delayed again in spring 2016 to some time in 2017. It will not be completely operational before at the earliest 2018. The installation is partially funded by the government of Alberta. The facility's planned throughput capacity is 350 metric tons of RDF a day with a production capacity of 38 million litres (10 million gallons) of ethanol per year. There is no public information available on any operational experience from the plant, and the first actual processing of RDF at the plant has yet to be confirmed.
Enerkem is allegedly developing one other commercial facility in Varennes, Quebec, for producing cellulosic ethanol. According to Enerkem, construction is planned to commence during 2017
The United States generated 459 million metric tons of municipal solid waste in 2011, of which approximately 290 million metric tons, or 63 percent, was landfilled, according to the Waste Business Journal. Much of it consists of valuable materials. By using this municipal solid waste that is otherwise sent to landfills, the facilities can address the challenges associated with waste disposal and help reduce the need for new landfills. By diverting waste from landfills, Enerkems facilities is one of several technologies that can diminish landfill methane gas emissions, which according to the EPA, are significantly more powerful at warming the atmosphere than CO2.
The use of municipal solid waste as feedstock mitigates the need for costly homogeneous feedstock while taking advantage of the waste management industry’s existing collection, distribution and logistics infrastructure, which generates significant savings in transportation costs. It also allows producing biofuels in any region either urban or rural.
Enerkem's three facilities are built around the company's thermochemical technology and are designed to convert different feedstocks, such as telephone poles or pretreated municipal solid waste, into transportation fuels and chemicals. Enerkem’s facilities have a compact footprint and can be located on landfill sites or near the waste sorting locations. The technology used is based on a modular approach. The modules are designed with a production capacity of 10 million gallons (38 million litres) per year. Each plant can have more than one module.